Monday, March 20, 2017

Lousy Smarch Part 2: Lessons Learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lousy Smarch Part 1: #skillseveryday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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