Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gravel Grovel: I am Thankful for Mountain Bikes, Half-Bananas, and Neoprene Booties

Half-Bananas are prepped and ready to go.

If I learned anything during the past season, it is to show up to every race with the following items: more food and water than I could possibly need, spare wool socks and chemical toe warmers anytime outside of May-August, regardless of the forecast, and a good attitude. The last item is the one I have struggled the most with, so when I was packing for the Gravel Grovel on Friday, I knew it was the most critical item. Of course, given all of the self-supported, "you are responsible for you" hype in the race description, I also stuffed my famous silver Wingnut pack with 50 oz. of water, a spare tube, a Co2 cartridge, a mini pump, a patch kit, four flasks of EFS Liquid Shot, four ready-to-eat half-bananas, and a zip-lock baggy with dry gloves, two pairs of toe warmers (which are good for pretty much all body parts including toes), and spare wool socks. Unfortunately, I didn't have room for the three chocolate chip cookies that I had pilfered from the previous day's Thanksgiving spread. I was pretty much a flask of rum around my neck away from being able to rescue myself and anyone else struggling on the course, given that they also had tiny hands and feet.

As prepared as I was food and equipment-wise, I knew that I was quite underprepared physically, but that is where the good attitude came in. I couldn't have put it so succintly before the race, but after I was done I realized what my "one-sentence" goal had been all along. Basically, I wanted one last opportunity to practice getting into my Ideal Performance State (IPS) before winter. IPS is a term that I picked up from one of the sports psychology books that I've been thumbing through the last couple of months. It is essentially the mental state at which you peform best. One important point is that athletes want to be able to channel this mental state regardless of other conditions, so the fact that I was in far from my ideal physical performance state was actually good chance for me to stretch the boundaries in which I could perform well mentally.

After all of the deliberation, I decided to go with my mountain bike instead of my cross bike. Since I was going to be slow anyway, I decided to go with comfort over speed and it turned out to be a good decision, as conditions were tougher than I had expected.

Things actually started off quite well and I was happy with my mental state in the opening miles. I settled into a hard-but-comfortable tempo and did not worry about the people around me too much. I was near the back, but not at the back, so I was okay with that. There was a steep climb 2-3 miles in and I was kind of disappointed when I had to shift to my granny gear and let a bunch of people pass me, because my weight-lifting trashed legs were loudly communicating their limits for the day. I just had to accept that and move on the best I could.

Luckily, it was not long before the mountain-bikey section of the course, which was a "gated road" that was technically wide enough for a Jeep to go through, but the singletrack going through it made it appear that it had not been traversed by a four-wheeled vehicle in quite some time. It was slick and gross, but after the steep hill in the middle, I was rewarded for riding my mountain bike when railed the downhill while the cross-bikers bumped and slid along. It was exceptionally thrilling, probably because in a mountain bike race you're just supposed to go downhill as fast as you can, but in that situation I was kind of being a show-off. Muah, ha ha ha ha.

That was really the last exciting part of the day, because after the high of Combs Road wore off, I just settled back in my tempo and tried to keep going as fast as I could without pushing my legs over the edge. This kept me in the same position of near the back, but not off the back, and near the halfway point, I was getting a little uncomfortable and struggling with numb thumbs, but was more or less okay. However, at that point, pretty much everyone in my general vincinity on the road decided to take a short-cut back. I wasn't really ready to give up, but I was fairly certain that my positive mental state would disintegrate if I were suddenly stuck in OTB no-man's land by myself for the next 30 miles. I decided that since my goal had more to do with a positive mental state and than a token finish, that I should follow the guys back and finish while I was still having fun.

I didn't have a speed/distance sensor on my bike, but I think we ended up with about 42 miles, which was still a lot more riding than I've done in a few weeks. The event seemed to be quite a success with 115 entries mostly just on word-of-mouth advertising, so I'd really like to try to come back and actually be competitive next year. For now though, I'm happy was that I was able to get in some good mental and physical training.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I'm not sure exactly when or how it happened. Just a few short months ago I was totally convinced that my little silver Anthem was all the bike I needed, unless of course, I won the lottery and replaced it with a similar carbon-fiber dream. However, at some point in the season that I started to feel like my bike was a little too heavy and inefficient. Sure, I could have been projecting my true feelings about myself or it could just be the two year itch, but I began to think about getting the Anthem a friend. A hard-tail friend.

Then came Velonew's proclamation that the 26-inch hard-tail is dead. Because I believe everything I read and jump on every cycling-related bandwagon possible, I knew I had to heed their advice like my entire bike-racing future depended on it.

Included in the article is Adam Craig's sweet, sweet Anthem-X SL, which Giant is not producing in my size. I realize that it may be a smart business decision on their part, as the respective markets of mountain bike racers under 5'6" and mountain bike racers who can afford $8000 bike are both relatively small. I'm sure the number of riders who fit both of those categories is tiny, but it's disappointing to know that I can't get one, even if I do win the lottery. Perhaps for one-meellion dollars they would make one in my size.

However, included in the great proclamation is the fact that 29'ers are not just for tall people. Thank goodness that us shorties (or slightly below average-ies of the female gender) aren't going to be stuck riding around on dead bikes, right?

Okay, so all of this aside, I still don't know the exact root of my 29'er craving. I think it may have begun with a fantasy of getting a new Ellsworth carbon-fiber hard-tail, with the pretty paisley paint-job that is on the Velo-Bella pro 'cross team's bikes. At one point, it was indicated that the color scheme would be available for other Ellsworth models, but that does not seem to be the case. Regardless, I got to check out a demo bike at the Cincinnati UCI weekend, and the smallest size is still way too big and it's more expensive than I was expecting. What can I say? I'm spoiled to unsurpassed value offered in Giant's non-$8000 bikes.

I was about to resign myself to getting the Anthem some nicer wheels and calling it good, but just a few days later I found myself in Pisgah and participating in various 29'er related talk to with Arkansas peeps. Specifically, Todd, of OC lantern-rouge lead out train fame and a fellow Jason Hillimire coaching client, broached the subject while we were washing bikes after one of the stages. He said, "I'm going to tell you what Jason isn't telling you: you need to switch to big wheels."

I suspect that if I'd ever asked Jason his opinion on the size of my wheels, he would have shared that information, but mostly he's concerned about the fact my wheels still have tubes in them, regardless of size. I've only had two off-road flats four years of mountain biking, so I'm kind of old-school in my attachment to tubes. I'm sort of superstitious about not messing with a good thing, even if it means a little more weight and a few more psi's. I'm sure I'll get over it some day, just not right now.

Despite coming home and trying to dismiss the events of mid-October 2009, I began compulsively looking up 29'er specs. Giant's smallest size was listed at as 16-inches, and I normally ride a 14.5. However, with some research I discovered that none of the brands I looked at make anything smaller than 15.5. Combined with the fairly frequent comments of "so and so rides a 29'er and she's shorter than you", I inspected the Giant geometry a bit more closely. Turns out that aside from the seat tube length, the Small 29'er was very similar to my current bike, but the front triangle could actually hold a water bottle. Score!!!

Anyway, Adam brought home a demo bike from an Bicycle Garage Indianapolis where a couple of his friends work (BikeSmith's doesn't have demo bikes), and I got to ride it around the neighborhood a bit. The proportions looked silly, and the un-shortened handlebars were awkward, but it felt good and that nice pedal=instant forward motion feeling I've hear people talk about but never really experienced. I even caught myself standing to accelerate up the hill behind my house and realized that I was experiencing zero bounce.

So I'm saving up my dollars in hopes of getting the pretty white Alliance (part carbon/part aluminum) model listed above. I think it will look awesome with pink Jagwire cable housing (Adam's favorite bike-pimping accessory) and one of the white Fizik Vitesse saddles with the pink thigh pads. To sweeten the deal, it comes with special wheels that are designed to run 20 psi, even with the darned old tubes. Corner well and not get flats? I'm there.

I'm hoping it will make the gravel sections of the Ouachita Challenge a lot more pleasant, and I only wish I could have it for Friday's Gravel Grovel.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Next Blog?

Something strange showed up on my blog tracker log this morning.

(I know, the first rule of the blog tracker log is that you don't talk about the blog tracker log, but the marketing undergrad student turned sport administration grad student turned wannabe techie grown-up in me enjoys seeing how many people bother Googling my name off of race entry lists or results.)

Anyway, during my 10 a.m. banana and mixed nuts break, I was purusing the traffic from last night, which was surprisingly heavy. I kept seeing "Next Blog" mixed into the gobbledegook (yes, I soooo technical) along with the names of blogs that I've never heard of. Is this "Next Blog" button at the top of the Blogger screen new? Regardless, it's pretty cool. You can sit there and go from random cycling blog to random cycling blog and see if there's anything you want to read.

So I just wanted to share in case other people hadn't noticed it and you have free time on your hands. It also gives me a reason to post something at a time of the year when I don't have much to post. I hoping to report on test riding a Giant XTC 29er, which I plan to do on Sunday, so maybe I'll have more to say then.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Jake gets all bottle-caged up.

So with another week passing in between outdoor rides, I finally got out today and took my cyclocross bike on a test run for the Gravel Grovel. I'm still debating on the 'cross bike vs. mountain bike choice, so I wanted to test out the severity of the 'cross bike cons of not having enough gearing to get up the tough gravel hills and providing a rough ride over the gravel. The gearing thing turned out not to be an issue unless we get a lot of rain the next 12 days. I'm used to riding gravel roads in the spring and having tire-sucking mud with which to contend. However, thanks to the unseasonably nice weather, I found the big hill on Gross Rd. to be relatively smooth and hard-packed. It still hurt to climb on my 'cross bike, but it was doable. The rough ride sucked, but considering how many people ride gravel roads on 'cross bikes with no complaints, that part may just require a bit of HTFU on my part. The 'cross bike pros are about 8 less pounds of bike with a lot less bobbing around on the smoother parts, and the ability to carry more fluids since it is a self-supported race and I need to carry about 6 hours worth of food and water with me.

I'm not really sure how this thing will go since when I told my coach that this race wasn't that important, I think we were thinking different things. I was thinking that I was burned out on hard training going into Pisgah, and I wasn't concerned about being in top condition. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was looking forward to one last chance to experiment with a few hours in the pain cave (okay, mild discomfort cave) and produce a good-for-me effort in the closest approximation to my prefered race type that Indiana has to offer.

However, the off-season strength training program is going to make things more difficult than planned. My legs are sore and slow, and I didn't feel good on today's ride. I know that getting the complete shut-down and reboot phase over now will be good for my next season, because I will have so much extra time to be in good form then, but it's kind of making me worried about my ability to get through any ride over 20 miles right now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Another Year

Today I turned 29, which wasn't terribly exciting, but it seems like a good marker, since I'm rolling into 2010 mode pretty slowly. I got a week in the weight room and then I missed my Monday-Wednesday workouts due to some mild flu-like illness which I am referring to as the 2009 Adam & Ryan virus, because Adam and his friend Ryan had similar symptoms at the same time a couple of months ago. Just tired/achy/crappy feeling without being fully laid out on the couch and unable to move sick.

The aching has subsided and at this point the tired and crappy could just as easily be attributed to inactivity, so I plan to return to my plan tomorrow. That means weight workout with 30 minute spin on the trainer before and after. Yep, trainer. I've made arrangements to work 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. once my more serious winter training starts, so I can ride in the daylight, but I probably won't start that until January.

Anyway, as you may know, I like coming up with obscure and/or cheesy theme songs for my training, so tonight my new Preseason 2010 song worked it's way back from 1990 and into my head. An odd choice with metaphorical meaning (at least to me). In the end, the deep meaning doesn't matter; it's a good old fashioned rebound song. See below:

Why is it that I seem to prefer music that was produced before I hit puberty and that I was too young to understand when it was on the radio?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

French Lick

Forgive me, Anthem, though I haven't actually sinned. It's been three weeks since my last bike ride, but only because that's what my training plan said to do. Of course, my training plan said today was a day off, but it was 70 degrees and sunny and my coach okayed what was likely my last chance to check out the new French Lick Resort trail before winter sets in.


Yeah, so I haven't been on the bike since Pisgah. I knew even before the race started I that I NEEDED to be done for the season once it was over. I asked for seven days off and I got two weeks. Last week was my first week of 2010 base training, starting with the much tweeted about FasCat off-season strength training plan. So my "base training" started with a bike-free week in the gym, leaving me with a third week off from the bike.


Anyway, today I went to French Lick, since I kept hearing rave reviews of the new trail, and also because it's the venue for a US Cup race next summer. I was glad to see that it was really only 1:10 away from Bloomington, instead of the 1:37 predicted by Google maps. I was also glad to see how swanky the facilities were and how friendly the staff of the adjoining golf course were.

A fellow racer who I know and his girlfriend arrived a few minutes after me, so I was going to ride with them, hoping it would be a nice mellow pace. It wasn't too bad, but it was a little more challenging than I'd hoped for in my first ride after a long break. I did fine for about a half an hour and then a sudden slight increase in the grade of the trail did me in. I can't even explain it. I would say that I bonked, except that I don't think that's possible after 30 minutes of riding with a good breakfast in my stomach. That's definitely how I felt, though. I'm guessing the lack of aerobic activity mixed with a lot of muscle trauma played some sort of nasty trick on my body. (I also did a 5k during my break that left me limping for nearly a week.)

After I slowed way down, I was able to do two more laps and enjoy the scenery, including the nifty cave shown above. Even if riding was a bit of struggle, it was super nice to get one more MTB ride, with bonus shorts and short sleeves, before winter.