Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Against the Clock

At the end of my first year in Pennsylvania, I was reaching my wit’s end regarding the stagnation in my cycling fitness that had only compounded since I moved here full of ambition to crush the rocks and regain my “single and ready to singlespeed” fitness that I’d had when Frank and I first met. It began with a disappointing run at the Rothrock TrailMix long course race, where I grossly underestimated how hard riding here really was, along with the complications of illness and adjusting to a new job and home. Then the rest of the summer just kind of slipped away while I still refused to accept my limits in the realm of Rothrock mountain biking, so I spent a lot of time suffering without ever really getting faster. Then ‘cross appeared seemingly out of nowhere, and while I was pleasantly surprised to be reunited with my love of waking up way too early every Sunday morning for three months with a sickening fear in the pit of my stomach that somehow turns to joy later in the afternoon, I found that my slow mountain bike suffering had done very little to prepare me for it. Once ‘cross was over, I thought that surely preparing for the Death March would keep me motivated through the winter as it had in the past and give me the spring fitness that I desired. Another illness and an unimaginably nasty winter destroyed that plan, and when I was able to consistently ride again without fear of frostbite, my sitbone rebelled and kept me off the bike for an additional couple of weeks. At the beginning of April, I had truly given up on making any progress beyond a vague hope that things would magically come together by ‘cross.

Strangely, things finally started to turn around once I had finally given up. The weekend after my first tentative sitbone-testing rides, we attempted a ride at Cooper’s Gap the morning after we found out that our first wedding venue was off the table and I had spent the night panicking instead of sleeping and Frank had spent the night trying to comfort me. It was the first 80-ish degree day of the year, and we were suffering and miserable. I still somehow manage my first-ever clean run of Chicken Peter, but overall, the ride was a bust, and we went home after taking 1.5 hours to ride a bit over five miles. 

Normally, Sunday’s are kind of throwaway rides for me, since I’m typically not recovered enough from Saturday to accomplish much, but I felt cheated by my short Saturday. I still felt the need for more MTB time for the weekend, so I planned to ride Tussey Ridge the next day and crossed my fingers for good legs. Shortly before the ride, Frank made plans for some dude friends to meet us there, and when we arrived before they did, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to get a head start.

I made steady progress across the ridge and quickly got moving again when I’d dab on something, rather stopping to drink and adjust my kit, etc. Much to my surprise, I made it to the end of the ridge with the boys nowhere in sight. I was feeling good, so I rode the extension and even decided to throw in an unplanned trip up the infamous John Wert Path. I did all of this in a surprisingly quick time, which inspired me to throw in another short-ish but intense mountain bike ride before leaving for a conference later in the week.

I have less interest ride pictures since I got too paranoid to let Frank see me riding.

In the six weeks since then, I’ve continued to see my PR’s fall on practically every segment in the forest, and I’ve started looking forward to my Saturday mountain bike rides during the workweek the same way I do my races during ‘cross season. Since the Rothrock TrailMix race is only a week and a half away, I’ll be competing in the short course (19 mile) division, but I’m determined to conquer the long course before the summer is over. I found a Strava file of an approximately 5-hour ride on the long course, which was good for fourth place female in last year’s race. None of the top three posted files, and I think five hours is more realistic for me than their times, anyway. I’ve been using the individual segment times as my pacing guide while I work on improving my speed through smaller portions of the course.

I’m currently rotating between riding the short course one week and Tussey Ridge/John Wert portion the next. I still don’t have my short course speed quite up to where I want it, but this weekend I’m going to push a little further and add Croyle/Gettis to my short course ride. So I will be doing the 19 miles of the short course race, plus a detour down a loose fall-line descent followed by a steep, chunky gated road climb before rejoining the course and heading back down to the finish. It only adds 3-4 more miles, but they are tough ones. I think I’m ready to at least set a marker on Gettis for the year, since I haven’t even ridden it since owning a GPS.

Sometimes I feel very confident that I will knock out my goal before ‘cross season starts, and sometimes it feels like the improvement isn’t coming fast enough, and I won’t be ready in time. It is nice to finally be working toward something again, though.

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