Friday, October 30, 2009

Pisgah Pictures

Since I didn't take more pictures while I was in Pisgah, I broke down and bought a couple from the The Living Pixel. There were only a couple of actual racing shots, which I wasn't crazy about, so I picked just picked a couple that appealed to me.

This picture shows two of the four Hoosiers who entered, but not the one out of four that actually finished the whole thing. I actually just met Kenny, the guy in picture for the first time right before this picture was taken, but I recognized hit kit as being Indianapolis-based and struck up a conversation. We look so clean, fresh, and hopeful, don't we?

This is me talking to the race director after finishing my 9 hour, 40 minute Stage 1. He's trying to convince me that the stage I just finished was the hardest one. For me, it was, because it was the only day I stuck it out for the entire stage. From my understanding, the second day was actually the hardest, for those that chose to press on through the snow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Post Pisgah Diet

Okay, so I don't have trouble doing anything without a cigarette, but this commercial epitomizes how I feel trying to watch a movie or enjoy a day off from training without junk food. However, I told myself weeks ago that once the big hairy monster of Pisgah was past, that I would start concentrating on improving the kilograms side of my watts per kilogram ratio during the off and pre-season, when I could best afford some calorie deficits.

I'm in the middle of enjoying a two-week break from training before I start slowly building up in November and resume "real" training in December. I thought that trying to keep myself off junk food while taking time off would be hard, but I think it's actually a bit easier since I can devote 100% of my willpower towards resisting it right now. I think it's a fairly well-researched fact that each person only has a limited amount of willpower that is distributed throughout all areas of their life, and if too much is devoted to one area, it usually slips in another. While I was struggling to get through the last couple of tough training cycles, I was coping by "rewarding" myself a lot food-wise. Now I can concentrate on gritting my teeth and gripping my teacup while I abstain from sugar and other deliciousness.

Of course, I probably won't see any real weight loss until I start training again, but this period is proving to be a good chance to recondition myself. Besides the full focus on diet, I have the advantage that I'm less ragingly hungry than when I'm training and I can allow my stomach to shrink a bit. Plus, there's always that first week or so of getting used to telling yourself no, so it will be a little easier by the time I start riding again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And Then...

Well, given the comments on my last post and the fact that the 2010 DINO schedule was posted while I was away, I don't suppose it would hurt to start discussing the events of my near future. Here is the very tentative 2010 schedule that I sent off to my coach today:

DINO Mountain Bike Series
4/10 DINO Spring Tune-up, Avon
5/1 Warsaw: Winona Lake Trail
6/6 Nashville: Brown County State Park
6/19 French Lick: French Lick Resort (We're getting a genuine US Cup Race!!!)
7/3 North Vernon: Muscatatuck County Park (STXC)
7/4 North Vernon: Muscatatuck County Park (XC)
7/25 Versailles: Versailles State Park
8/15 Logansport: France Park
8/29 Indianapolis: Town Run Trail Park

Endurance events:
3/28 Ouachita Challenge 60 mile
5/29 Mohican 100k (date not official, just guessing)
9/11 24 Hours of DINO, Versailles (9 laps in 12 hours this year?)

I kind of want to pick another 6 hour or 100k-ish race in the last half of the season, but I don't know of any good ones. Any suggestions?

As for the rest of 2009, it's pretty much over. I'm looking at a complete end-of-season break for the next couple of weeks and then an early start on prepping for next year. I may do the Indiapolis CX races just for support reasons, but I'm not sure. I'm not really feeling it right now.

I have started thinking about the 100k gravel road race in Brown County the day after Thanksgiving. Given the proximity of the event, mere $10 entry fee, and the fact that the website very explicitly states that no one will be dragging my sorry butt off of the course, I think it's exempt from my new top 50% rule. That is, I'm okay with one more DFL with such a minimal investment involved. I'm just trying to decide between my 'cross bike and my mountain bike.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race: Up Where I Don't Belong

"I figure the only thing more pathetic than taking a vacation alone in an area where I don't belong is looking back when I am older and regretting not taking this opportunity to ride over a mountain range and on trails someplace other than my back yard." - ZenBicyclist

After two cycling-related trips in about a week and a half, I'm far behind on what's been happening in my Internet world the last couple of weeks. However, as I was combing through more pressing tasks this morning, I noticed the the title "Pisgah National Forest" on my very backed-up blog reading list. Seeing as I had just returned from Pisgah and the author of the post was not one of the folks I had encountered there, I decided to check it out.

It turns out that he was contemplating a vacation there this week (I think), and one of his reasons for choosing the destination was that it would be "warmer than Michigan". Funny, I found it to be exactly no warmer than when I raced in Michigan last fall. The main difference is that I packed much warmer clothing for a November race in in Michigan called the ICEMAN than I did for an October race in North Carolina with no references to cold things in its name. And that, as Robert Frost said, has made all the difference.

More importantly, the thing that struck me most was that "alone" and "don't belong" are exactly the top two things that come to mind about my Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race experience. The alone part is obvious: when time for the race came, neither my husband nor my mother could make the trip with me and I was stuck with a non-refundable deposit on a nice, affordable, and very remote cabin outside of town. In the end, I would have traded my fully-functional kitchen for a hotel room in town with not even a microfridge if it meant closer proximity to the other racers. Good nutrition means nothing if low morale is the price.

The "don't belong" part slowly built as I got lapped in Thursday's short track race that served as the prologue. It was a one-mile lap, half of which was a rooty, sloppy wet, five(?)-switchback climb up a hill on the Brevard campus. The first pass I tried a slow-and-steady and maybe I can ride the whole thing approach. No way. By the last lap I just ran the whole thing because it was faster than constant mounting and dismounting.

I didn't worry about the prologue too much as I was saving myself for the longer stages and putting out a 70% effort at best. However, by the middle of the first long stage it was obvious that it was obvious that I really had no business being there. The stage started with seven miles of constant grinding up a gravel road with a fairly consistent steep grade. It was mostly just a literal pain in the butt because it's hard to just sit still on a mountain saddle and constantly pedal for that long. I'm used to more dynamic activity in one way or another. However, things got plenty dynamic once I hit the singletrack. Dynamic in the sense that the trail was completely muddy with wet roots everywhere and when I wasn't dabbing and dismounting, I was careening all over the trail like a pinball. The trail would have been technical under dry conditions, like a root-heavy Schooner Trace, but wet it was darn near impossible for me to stay on my bike for me than a minute at a time.

After the singletrack, I had four more miles of straight-up grinding where the sweeper and I discussed at length my chances of making the time cutoffs and what was in store for me if I did. Luckily, I made the second cutoff by 20 minutes and since I was told there was only more gravel (even some downhill) and easy singletrack before the next stop, I pressed on. The last stop was a mere five miles from the finish, although I was told that it contained a full mile of hike-a-bike (stuff that only Sam Koerber was said to be able to ride) and a gnarly downhill-bike type downhill. However, I went into it with the attitude that got me into my very first beginner race: "Meh, it's five miles...on a bike."

And much like my first beginner race it was much more five miles with a bike than on a bike. However, it was actually the most fun five miles of the whole trip. I was in the space where I was so far back from the next person that it wasn't even funny, but I had three hours before the final cutoff time and I only mildly cold in my slightly insufficient clothing. I took my time and enjoyed the ride, er walk. Luckily, I had a very cool sweeper named Yuri (sp?) with me and he was very laid back and didn't try to rush me. He actually stopped a few times on some of the better overlooks and told me about the different mountains we could see in the distance. He even took the picture below, one of the few I had time and energy to get while I was there. I finally made it back to finish after 9 hours and 40 minutes to a wealth of pity claps and semi-rock star treatment. It was pretty cool and I felt good having toughed out a situation that I never should have put myself in the first place.

After the first long stage, I think I subconsciously decided that I had proven whatever point that I had come to prove. It was nearly dark when I finished and I still had to clean my bike, wash my clothes, and eat dinner. To make matters worse, I locked myself out of my cabin and had some drama trying to get back in. When I woke up at 5:30 the next morning after six hours of interrupted sleep, I felt like garbage and could barely eat my breakfast. The temperature had dropped to the mid-40's with drizzle and a little snow, and early in the day I decided that I would probably just take the early-bailout time penalty at some point and try to come back strong on the final day. I stuck it out just long enough to get myself soaked on the seven creek crossings, but not enough to ride though the heavy snow at 6000 ft. that would come later in the day.

I had high hopes for the final day, as it was sunny and I was feeling more rested. The only problem was that my toes were still kind of numb from the previous day and I made the decision that it got to the point where my fingers were too numb to shift, I would pack it in. There was hope for a warm afternoon, and I dressed as warmly as I could, although I had not brought many warm clothes. Things looked good on the initial fireroad climb, but the wind was strong up high in the mountains and by the bottom of the first decent I my fingers had completely lost feeling. At that point I realized that punishing myself like that was not worth it and that it was time to call it. I got a ride back and hung out while the pros finished incredibly early in the day and the weather turned surprisingly decent (of course).

I'm sad about how it all ended, but I'm also ready to move on. I came to the decision that Pisgah was my last death march. I'm going to reign things in in 2010 and concentrate on doing well in shorter races rather than throwing myself into the deep end of events that I may or may not be able to finish. There is something very noble about throwing yourself in the deep end and I admire people who are willing to do it in varying capacities, because, it stretches you to be better. However, it's only cute so many times and I think I've befriended enough sweepers and received enough pity claps for one cycling career. When I first started endurance racing, I was pursuing glory; now I'm shooting for something even more difficult: anonymity. My goal for 2010 is to start achieving respectable top 50% finishes in a few 50-60 mile races and not require any special treatment from volunteers or organizers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mental Toughness

You cannot run away from a weakness;
you must sometimes fight it out or perish;
and if that be so,
why not now, and where you stand.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

That quote summarizes so much of what I've learned in the past few months and pretty much the complete opposite of my behavior the last couple of weeks.

In many ways I made great strides in my training this season, since I have achieved levels of volume and consistency far beyond those of my past seasons, but I still haven't had the kind of race success for which I was hoping. It's been said that eighty percent of success is showing up, and I have to say I got really good at showing up this season, at least physically. As the summer wore on, I realized that the problem was a combination of not showing up mentally or lacking that other twenty percent when I did.

That lead me to seek out sports psychology books at my local library, and I checked out The New Toughness Training for Sports which a teammate had suggested on the Velo Bella message board. The most important thing I got from that book was the quote at the top of this post, but I started to glean some other good information as well. My main issue was that the book seemed way too focused on younger athletes, mostly in ball sports. I like many of the author's ideas, but I just couldn't identify when having pressure from my parents as one of my major stressors, so I returned the book halfway through and got Toughness Training for Life instead. I'm about a third into the book and I'm pretty happy so far, but I'm also a bit disappointed that author doesn't seem to realize that adult amateur athletes exist. However, I realize that my perception is a bit skewed as to the size of that population and realize that is probably significantly larger than it was in the early '90's when the book was written, due to the increased accessibility/popularity of running races, triathlons, and cycling races, especially cyclocross. Perhaps the author needs to get to work on "Toughness Training for Grownups Who Work Because They Have To, Race Because They Want To, and Wear Themselves Pretty Thin in the Process. " I would totally read that, but until then, I think I can get what I need from the later book.

All of that being said, the information in the book will help me, but it doesn't fully address the "weakness" as it applies to me. At some point in the summer, I realized that I was gravitating towards endurance racing not because I actually had a gift for it, but because it allowed me to run away from my weaknesses in cross country and cyclocross racing. While I think it's perfectly acceptable for me to prefer endurance racing, which after the DINO 6 hour I really believe I do, I realize that I must "fight it out or perish" when it comes to my shorter race weaknesses. I can't reach my full potential as a cyclist in any discipline if I'm running away from a weakness.

The part I'm having a problem with is, "Why not now, where I stand?" This could not have been any more evident than in my cyclocross races the last two weekends (notice the lack of race reports). Basically, I came into the races with low energy and low motivation, because I've been giving everything I have left into preparation for Pisgah, while I've been struggling against my usually August and September malaise. To make things worse, realizing that my cyclocross problems are in my head did nothing to improve them, it just helped me make excuses to myself.

So while "now, where I stand" is good in theory, I'm am standing on the edge of a much bigger and more imminent battle. At least it's one in which my strength, if there is one strength I have, lies. I really struggle with holding my intensity in the first few painful minutes of a cross country or cyclocross race, but it when it comes to the moments of, "Okay, Lindsay, you got yourself on this stupid mountain, now you gotta get yourself off," I know that I have a pretty good track record.

The good news is that I have formed a solid plan for conquering my weaknesses this winter and next season. After I return from Pisgah, I plan to rest up, regain my strength, and come out ready to fight next spring.

But for the next few days, this is what I am up against:

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