Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Love and Cyclocross

If it don't come easy, you better let it go.
'Cause when it don't come easy, there's no natural flow.
Don't make it hard on your heart, you might be better off alone,
If it don't come easy, you better let it go.

I think that possibly the worst way to follow up a bad race is to come back six days later and race on practically the same course against practically the same field. No opportunity to start fresh there. About five minutes into the Indiana State Cyclocross Championships I found myself falling further into the Spiral of Suck that I had started the weekend before. And since the officials let the thing drag on and on, I had a loooong time to think about that Spiral of Suck before I was finally allowed to finish at 45 minutes.

The thoughts were basically that I was done - mentally and physically. That I had set a goal for myself for the season, to win my category in the OVCX series, and that I had accomplished that goal, with awesome overall race win to cap it off. It had been a very good year, and I had given it everything I had. And despite my desire to support my state's ongoing series, I had no desire to give any more. I thought I could skate by on a half-assed effort for the rest of December, but my competition was not going to let me get away with that. On the second lap, Tim O'Donnell yelled, "What, are you saving it for next year?" (possible nominee for heckle of the year?), and I yelled back, "Why, yes. Yes, I am." Time to go home and get ready for 2012, kids.

The thing is that, while cyclocross is notoriously hard, from the starting line at Apple Cross to the finish line at Kings, going hard had come surprisingly easy. Those first few "Holy crap, I'm leading!" moments laid the foundation for little successes that built every week and forced me to dig a little deeper and learn a little more about racing every time I went out. However, conscious willing of effort was pretty limited. Occasionally, I would have to make the decision to give an extra 10% effort in an acceleration to pass, cover a move, or prevent a pass in a straightaway, but for the most part, success either happened or it didn't. And for the most part this year, success happened for me. It was more about resisting the urge to back off than trying to force myself to go harder.

So during Saturday's very long and very conscious tour of the pain cave, I remembered this old song, and realized a) It had ceased to come easy b) I better let it go. While both love or cyclocross require a certain amount of grit for long term success, sometimes you have to take a break from a dysfunctional relationship.

This is really about allowing myself to enjoy my bike-free Christmas vacation that starts tomorrow and not ending my super-awesome 2011 season on a sour note. I'm pulling the plug one C priority race short of what I planned. In return, I’ll get the chance for a real end-of-season break before my official “start 2012 training date” of January 7th. I'm still inspired by those battling back from a slump like Sierra Siebenlist with her elite women's state championship this weekend, and the John Gatch in The Best Bike Blog Ever's awesome "Stations of the Cross" post. I'm putting it on the record now that I fully intend to follow up my Cat 4 OVCX championship with another one in Cat 3 next season, so if things start to go sideways and I start bitching about being "burned out" in mid-October, you all have my full permission to slap me, tell me to HTFU, and play this song.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

De Cross Gaat Door (The Cross Goes On)

The cross always goes by from September to around Valentine's Day...
Though it is so cold, this is where you really love
No, you can't miss this ever again

Yeah, I know. You've already seen this and thought, "Belgian country music video about cyclocross? Hilarious. Moving on..." But me, being well, me, I had to obsess over free online translations of the lyrics. Despite the fact that the grammar is really funky and there's no real consensus on whether the 'cross goes on, by, or through, you know that Miss Tatyana Storm may be onto something, cheesy as it may be. Don't tell me that imagery of multi-colored tents, the "pretty pain" of the first hill, or the smell of "hot oil" in the air doesn't bring a smile to your face. In regard to the "hot oil", I'm just assuming that like the Eskimos and their snow, that Belgians have eighteen different words for "embrocation" that our feeble English language just can't express.

Anyway, "the cross goes on" is a good way to express my feelings this past weekend. Coming off the high of my OVCX championship, I tried to get myself bundled up and pumped up enough to have a good race the ICX Backyard Cross, but it just didn't happen. I'd kind of made peace with the fact that I wouldn't be dragging myself up to the front the ICX women's "fancy 4's", and was okay finishing things out floating in the middle like I had been doing. Unfortunately, I knew that Catherine Hollibaugh was coming off of a huge breakthrough race at the OVCX finale, and was probably less willing to settle for her current place in the cyclostrata than I was. Numb hands and feet and a slow initial pace for the race kind of did me in. I was passed by both Catherine and another girl, and I slipped into the "spiral of suck" before I could really get myself together. Yeah, I sucked, bad. However, I was probably due for one of those, and perhaps it will be the kick in the pants I need to get through the last two races.

The other thing goes on is the end of season party. We had to have a post-race party in honor of the Scotch we won at the OVCX finale party. That part was definitely more fun than the race. Of course, we probably have to have a state championships party this coming weekend and of course an ICX finale party, which just happens to be on New Year's Eve. Not that I'm complaining. I'm totally going to miss my 'cross friends over the winter. Each race is starting to feel a little like the last day of camp.

You know what else goes on? Cyclocross friendships. Awwwwwwww. I'm now cheesier than that video.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Cup Runneth Over

All I do is win, win, win, no matter what,
Got [drinking vessels] on my mind, I can never get enough
And when I ride it 'cross the line, I put at least one hand up.

Ask you what you laughing at, represent that mud life
Dirty money, bitch, you better get your mud right

Okay, okay, I'm getting a little full of myself, but Sunday was a good day. I guess I made the right decision regarding cat up vs. have one last good race as a 4, because I had one last *great* race as a 4. I'm also wondering about the power of blogging my intentions. When I wrote that I wanted to get a top 3 overall, it happened the very next weekend at Gun Club. When I wanted to win, thought I could win, and knew conditions would be damn near perfect for me to win at Lexington but was afraid to publicly announce it, I didn't win. When I finally allowed myself to say it, it happened.

Anyway, the OVCX finale race was more sticky than sloshy, which is different than the muddy conditions where I have excelled in the past. However, I got a good start and made the turn out of the first bog in the lead. I kept it through the half-lap prologue until we had to run up the hill to the finish line and Karin Reed beat me to the top. She got a little gap, but then I started gaining again, and passed her when she had to run the first time up the "camel hump" and I was able to ride. SRAM may be all about pushing their top-end Red group, but there's something to be said for a low-end Apex derailleur that allows you to run an 11-32 cassette on a hilly and sticky course.

I held the lead until the next time through the finish, but Karin came back up even with me as we crested the hill. I jumped back on my bike and dove for the inside of the turn, shutting the door and maintaining my lead. Then I hammered to keep it. By the time I came around to the stairs again, Adam told me that I had over 30 seconds, but a glance at my watch indicated that I would still have one more full lap to go. My mind started asking me how I could screw it up, like it is wont to do in such situations, but I told it that I wasn't going to screw up this time. So I didn't. I rode hard for another lap, and as I made next-to-last turn of the course, I glanced over and saw that I had a sand pit and 150 meters of sloggy hill between myself and Karin. I let up for a just a couple of pedal strokes on the downhill before the finishing straight, then jumped off, shouldered my bike, and ran with all my might to patch of firm grass before the finish line. At that point, my lead was secure, so even though it would have been faster to keep running, I stopped, remounted, and rode over the line for my first win.

The Heckle Off and the series awards party were a ton of fun. I wasn't feeling hopeful for the Shamrock Cycles team to take the Heckle Off victory, because practically everyone got recruited to pit as conditions continued to deteriorate throughout the day. Luckily, the winner was determined by audience yelling at the awards ceremony, and even if we spent more time during the last two races swapping and washing bikes than we acting like hooligans, we are really good at yelling. We yelled hard, and claimed the bottle of Scotch and case of Little Kings. For some reason, Will handed me the bottle of Scotch before I got up on the podium for the series championship, so my overly dramatic victory picture is kind of funny.

I'm sad that the OVCX series is over, but I'm happy with the way it ended. I'm going to miss everyone through the long winter months of training before next season, but we still have a few ICX races left and apparently, a bottle of Scotch to drink. I'm looking forward to the new adventures of road racing and giving the 100 mile mountain bike race another go. Regardless, I still expect there will be many times in the next few months where I look at the newly stamped "CX:03" on my racing license and think, "Is it September yet?"

Keep hustling (it ain't over me, yeah, it ain't over for me)
Keep flowing (Ima step up my game and get what's comin' for me)

Monday, November 21, 2011


1. next to the last: the penultimate scene of the play.

I've always liked that word for some reason. I first learned it during my college track days when I'd hear the coach talking to the jumpers about their penultimate step, which I gathered was critical to a good jump. Of course, it sounded way cooler than what it actually meant. I've had plenty of penultimate finishes in my cycling career, but yesterday was the penultimate (perhaps ultimate?) race of my Cat 4 cyclocross career. Luckily, I did not finish next to last; I finished next to first.

I guess I can admit now that I was really hoping for first-first, but it didn't happen. The combination of a small field and sloppy conditions set me up for my best shot at a for-real overall win possibly ever again (save some huge improvement on my part plus hella mud plus Nikki Dalliare doesn't show up scenario in the far future).

At the start, Karin Reed took a huge jump off the front, and I spent most of the first lap chasing her down. As I got closer, I realized that the pack behind me was thinning considerably, but that Sharlyn Golding was emerging and getting closer. Even though it was only her second cross race, I knew she was strong from Storm the Greens and that I only beat her there because her road bike with cross tires setup failed to survive "the Christmas mud hole" and gifted another position to me. However, she had returned to Lexington with a new 'cross bike, and despite the fact that the whole course should have been my Christmas mud hole, it appeared that I wasn't to be given any gifts that day.

I successfully caught and passed Karin early in the second lap (we only did two due to the long course and slow conditions) and then just tried to ride like hell and keep away from Sharlyn. She did eventually catch me with a couple of minutes to go, and then I got antsy trying to get back in front of her before the final uphill. I didn't have the confidence to go up against her in the final uphill once we passed the technical stuff, and I became overly aggressive. I ended up making a few minor slips and losing several bike lengths, so that I spent the last section just hammering to keep Karin from passing me back. In the end, second place was still pretty good, but I really wanted to win one.

Riding the Brown Stripe

So after nine races, my Women's Cat 4 Open OVCX championship is secure. My lead is greater than the points available at the final race, so regardless of who wins, they will not pass me in the series points standings. Since a Cat 3 upgrade is inevitable in the near future, I'm debating whether I should just go ahead and race Cat 3 at the OVCX finale.

1) I want to see how I stand against the next level of competition in real life, rather than just comparing lap times. I *probably* won't be DFL.
2) They are paying 20 places deep, so I might win money.
3) We wouldn't have to leave before the crack of dawn like we have all season, because my race would be later.

1) If I race 4's, I could still get my elusive outright win, even if the Kings CX field is a little tougher than at Lexington. Especially if I cross my fingers for more mud.
2) I'm not sure how informative racing my 2011 self against the Cat 3 field will be, because I'm expecting my 2012 self to be faster. Maybe I should just enjoy one last Cat 4 race, and leave the measuring stick for next year's AppleCross or whatever tune-up races are available.
3) If I race 3's, I will miss most of the Shamrock Cycles vs. Rogue Racing heckle-off. Although switching my role to heckle-ee instead of heckle-er does have it's appealing points, I probably won't get a accurate idea of how I stand against the 3's if I spend the whole race grabbing dollar bills, bacon, and Jello shots.

Looking at my list, I seem to spend more time justifying my cons. I'm not sure if that means I really don't want to cat up yet or that I really should cat up because I need so much justification. Regardless, I have about a week to mull this over, and I'll probably change my mind at least five times before I actually register. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.

Navigating a slippery downhill switchback at MTV

I also raced the ICX race at Major Taylor Velodrome on Saturday. Despite hopes that the short and slippery course might play to my advantage, I overcooked a couple of turns in the first few minutes and had to work my way back up from last place. So it ended in typical ICX form, Rebecca and Val up front, me a minute or so back, then the rest of the field a couple of minutes behind me. I'd be thrilled if I could beat just one of them at one race by the time the series is over, so I guess that will be the post-OVCX goal to get me through December.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Best Birthday Weekend Ever!

It's been a busy week since returning from our weekend of 'crossbauchery in Louisville, so I'm a little late getting a report up. For the USGP weekend, the focus was more on fun than racing, and with my 31st birthday taking place on Saturday, this seemed pretty appropriate. I milked it for all it was worth getting a birthday shout-out from the announcer, a cupcake from the hostess of the My Wife, Inc. Cupcake Chronicles, and Happy Birthday serenades both during the race and after.

My races for both days fall into the "meets expectations" category, although perhaps my expectations for the weekend were a little low. Between the hotel bed and the restaurant food, I wasn't really channeling my A game. Saturday I had a bit of a motivation crisis, because I was floating around mid-pack in the mixed 3/4 field and didn't know much about the ability level of the girls around me the race. I ended up 23rd out of 40, knowing that I probably didn't fight as hard to get up to 20th or 21st as I should have. I regretted this after it was over and vowed to give it a better go on Sunday. Well, give it a better go after some post-dinner margaritas on Saturday night, you know. Luckily, my legs weren't aware of the dehydration and fatigue that the rest of my body was feeling, and I rode pretty well, except for a failed remount that lead to a fall and a dropped chain after the barriers on the second lap. This cost me about six places, but I maintained fighter mode as I'd promised myself I would, and made back all of the lost places by the end of the race. My only disappointment was that I just missed catching the 2-3 girls that I'd been chasing before the fall, and ended up in 21st place.

So after all us amateur folks were done racing Sunday, we cleaned up and checked out of our hotel. Then we headed back to the venue, and it was time for the real fun to begin. Since I've probably already shocked my paleo cycling advisor with talk of cupcakes (just one) and margaritas (not the NorCal sort), I will now shock my mother (dooon't look at it) with the sequel to "Best Barriers Ever", in which the Shamrock Cycles Super Friends bring their heckle game to a whole new level. Although my face is either obscured or in the background most of the time, yes, those are my hands doing the dollar bill placement in the opening scene.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Harbin Park 2011: Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Harbin Park holds a special place in the the cyclocross-related section of my heart. It was the venue of my first 'cross race back in 2006, where I came in last out of six women. It was also where I got the crazy idea to try and race the elite class the next year, because there were only ten elite women so everyone got prize money and UCI points. How freaking cool would it be to have a UCI point? The next year Katie Compton showed up, destroyed the elite women and most of the elite men, and put Cincinnati on the UCI cyclocross map. No more freebie UCI points would be handed out from that point on.

As for me, I was learning that, while my mountain biking skills had improved, I hadn't made much progress in gaining the raw power necessary for 'cross success. The only success that the 2007 Harbin Park brought was that I was *not last*. I used my mad skillz on the final turny sections and beat *one girl*. Afterward I witnessed the top girls from my category getting their podium pictures taken in front of the United Dairy Farmer's banner, was extremely jealous, and subconsciously thought, "UCI point be damned. I just want my picture taken in front of that banner."

Well, 2007 self, feast your eyes on this:

Okay, so the fields have evolved a bit since 2007 in that yesterday all females over the age of 15 with no UCI license were lumped into one wave. Within that wave, there were categories for Under 19, Cat 4, Cat 3, and Masters 1/2/3/4 35+. With the Masters World Championships coming to Louisville this winter, efforts are being made to allow masters women to stay out of the UCI elite races and preserve their eligibility for worlds. Good for them, but it also means that us Cat 4 chicks have to race in much faster fields at the big races.

So the field was big and fast, but really there were only six girls in the Cat 4 open class. A couple of my key crossresults.com "nemeses" had signed up for the race but didn't show up, and another didn't finish. So as cool as it was standing on the big stage, it didn't require the dominating performance to get there that it would have in years past.

Overall, I finished 17th out of 35 starters. The field was about half 3's and half 4's with a couple of juniors and one masters Cat 2 (and several 3's that probably should be 2's). It was a good opportunity to see how I stood against the next level of competition, since my days as a Cat 4 are numbered. I beat a few Cat 3's and was the fastest of all the OVCX regulars from my wave, so I think fared pretty well. I think I'm close being able to race in the OVCX "big girls" race without getting my butt completely whipped, but I'm not totally there.

If my magic deadlift-centric training yields the improvements in 2012 that it did in 2011, it shouldn't be a problem. The blessing and the curse of improving way more this season than conventional wisdom says I should have is that I really have no idea what to expect next season. I just have to keep doing what I'm doing and hope it keeps working.

Next weekend I will get a chance to test myself against more Cat 3's as the 3/4 field at the Louisville USGP is huge and dare I say, sandbagger-tastic. Yeah, I said it. I guess I should be glad for the experience, but it annoys me that they have a 2/3 and a 3/4 race going at the exact same time and practically all of the 3's signed up for the 3/4 race, despite the fact there will probably only be a couple of 2's at most. But I guess if I get too whiny over getting bumped off the podium for the weekend, that kind of makes me a sandbagger, too.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lion of the Den/ Storm the Greens

Warming up in the morning light
Light the prayer candle of Sven Nys
To keep the season's hope alive
Gotta replace BloomingCross with a top five

I don't wanna wait, for November to be over
I want to know right now what will it be
I don't wanna wait, for November to be over
Will I be OVCX champ or will I be...sorry?!!

This was what was running through my mind all last week and leading up to the Storm the Greens race. After a rapid fire campaign through the first seven races of the series, I was left with a two-week gap before race number eight. That's a lot of time to sit and home doing math and run through possible race scenarios. The worst part was knowing that after the two-week break was up, I would get one more small piece of the puzzle squared away, and then the last two races would be spread over a long five-week period. Luckily, I was able to increase my lead a little bit more yesterday which will probably help me make it through the next two weekends of third row starts behind higher category riders without going too crazy.

In addition to the Storm the Greens race, Adam and I also returned Yorktown, where we both rode bikes and went to bars a fair amount back in our Muncie days. My race was nothing to write home about. I basically tried to hang with Rebecca and Valerie, which only worked for a couple of minutes, and then basically settled in for 2.5 laps of time trial. I finished two minutes behind Rebecca and three minutes ahead of the fourth place rider, so it was kind of a long haul out there by myself.

You may notice from the picture below that I am wearing a Speedway Wheelmen kit. Adam's team director and teammates have been trying to get me to join their team all season because they want to have a real women's team. The plus side is that in addition to the one strong female rider they already had (Valerie from above paragraph), they got Jayne Prater and Janelle Renschler to join. So the part about having actual teammates that I'm already friends with is cool, but I'm really attached to my Velo Bella kit and I'm having a hard time giving it up. Seriously, the arrival of my new road bike marked the replacement of the one cycling related item I owned that was not some combination of black, white, pink, and blue. Now you're wanting me to throw orange in the mix? Now that I've seen the pictures, it looks better than I thought it would and I'm coming around to the idea of being a Speedway Wheel-woman. I'm going to need teammates if I want to race road in the spring, right?

Storm the Greens went about as well as I'd hoped. I got the hole shot and held through the long, long straightaway to the first turn. Then I got nipped on the inside of the turn when I swung wide, and then I lost a couple of places when I had to dismount on the first steep uphill. After I regained my composure, I made one spot back and was chasing down another girl with pretty spotty success. Then I came through the one mud hole on the course (it was obviously put there just for the sake of having a mud hole) and saw the girl I'd been chasing with her legs pedaling wildly while her bike slow coasted to stop. She dropped her chain, and I dropped the hammer. The next girl up was pretty fair ahead, but I tried to stay on the gas as much as possible. Then on the final time through the mud hole I saw her stopped in front of me trying to get her bike going again. It was the like the Christmas mud hole for me. I kicked into high gear to try and hold her off until the finish, and it worked. I ended up fifth overall and first in the Cat 4 Open. Most importantly I increased my series lead enough that my fears of having it all taken away from me in the last race are starting to calm down a little.

I picked a good race to win my category, because Storm the Greens gave out better prizes than the usual swag from the sponsoring bike shop's clearance bin. We got these cool Halloween shirts, a hooded sweatshirt for me and t-shirts for second and third place.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Raceless Weekend

The past weekend was the first break in the OVCX series this year, and although there was an ICX race at Major Taylor Velodrome on Sunday, I thought that a weekend off from racing would be good for me. Besides, my mom was coming to visit, so I just went ahead and chilled out with a couple of bike-free days.

I've not been on any sort of formal training plan since racing began, and I usually just evaluate a my level of fatigue on Tuesdays and Thursdays and decided whether I should ride hard, easy, or not at all. Very rarely has the answer come up as "hard", and it doesn't really seem to have hurt me. Racing doubles every weekend really fatigues the body and I'm not going to help myself by pushing further into fatigue that I won't be able to recover from before the next race. The only part of my training week between races that I don't compromise on is my one day of maintenance strength work on Wednesdays, because I feel like my gym time over the summer was the major contributor in my improvements this season, so I'm doing my best to maintain my strength and not have to go through any major soreness when I start to go heavier again in the off-season.

Anyway, with a weekend off from racing, I knew that I needed to get a couple of hard workouts before I raced again, even though I was out of practice in forcing myself to go hard without anyone to chase. A combination of the last days of sickness and then some days of crappy weather caused me to delay the first workout until Friday morning, which I had off from work in anticipation of my mom's arrival. I decided that a set of Jamie's "Intervals of Death" would be a good tune-up between races.

The workout consists of 6-12 rounds of 30 seconds as hard as you can go with 4:30 rest. Sounds like a lot of rest, huh? The key to the workout is that if you just go "hard" it isn't that hard, but if you can force yourself to go bleeding eyeballs hard on each rep it is hard and gives a big improvement in speed. I'm not even sure of the mechanism (maybe neurological?), but for my May training block I did two days a weeks of heavy weights and two days a week of these intervals and when it was over my legs were super snappy and I got my first XC win. They just work. Anyway, I went for eight rounds and had good numbers. Not only did I set a all-time best 30 seconds, there wasn't too huge of a drop-off between my best and worst. Normally when I set a short power PR a) I'm intentionally trying b) the rest of the workout is crap. Neither was the case this time.

Bhu Fan (went with my first instinct there) got her first hard workout, as well, and rode like a dream. Unlike her namesake, she definitely doesn't have a "tin can Oriental voice", just smooth and quiet with zoomy carbon fiber sounds here and there. (Bhu Fan the character is a Korat cat, so I don't think "Oriental" is racist in this case. Just as long as you stay PC and call her a "companion animal" instead of a pet.)

Fall foliage in Cascades Park

Saturday and Sunday were spent off the bike and with my mom. We did some fun stuff like shop for antiques, hit up the farmer's market, and took a tour of Marengo Cave. We saw this guy on the way out. It was the first woodchuck my mom had ever seen and only the third for me.

This week will start looking like a normal race week again, but I will be rested enough for one more hard workout on Tuesday. I'm going to try something a little different of my own devisement. With the current infrequency of hard workouts, I was trying to figure out what two workouts would give me the best tune-up during this mid-season mini-break. I thought the 30-seconders were a good choice, but I decided that rather than doing just a regular V02 max workout that I would go to the hill that I use for V02 max intervals in the 2-3 minute range. I think it might be 3.5 minutes to the actual peak of the hill, but less than 4, so I've never really ridden it out all the way in repeats. The last minute is tough, anyway, since it flattens out after a really steep section, and it gets hard to hold my power high. So for tomorrow, my goal is to ride to the peak regardless of time and not let my power drop during the last flatter section. This should be a good simulation for not letting myself slow down on the flatter, straighter sections during races where I tend to back off a bit and get passed.

Monday, October 17, 2011

OVCX #7: BloomingCross

I'm blaming the announcers at Gun Club. Some time in the afternoon, they were discussing "cross cough", and I thought, "Hmm, I haven't coughed after a race since AppleCross." I felt the tickle in my throat soon after, and it seemed that there was no turning back the tide.

I knew that three weekends in a row of double races, including some 4:30 a.m. wake up calls would drive my body to the edge of what it could handle, but I just wanted to make it through to BloomingCross. After that, I would have the minimum seven races down for the OVCX series, and then I would get a weekend off when my mom came to visit October 21-24. Unfortunately, a nasty cold set in before I could get to my "one more race".

I did what I could to try and get better by the weekend, and spent a lot of time fretting about how things would turn out. The winner of last week's race had catted up to a 3, so that really opened up the possibilities. When I scanned the entry list, I realized I'd beaten every girl entered at least twice, with the exception of one. The one left had only beaten me by one second at Gun Club, so I thought I might have a good chance at the overall win. The cold, however, would not go away.

So I showed up yesterday just hoping for the best, and trying to convince myself that I would feel good once I started racing, even though I felt like crap. I did get a good start, but halfway through the first lap, I heard the rattling that meant someone was trying to come around me. It turned out to be about five people, including a couple of girls that are usually way behind me. I think that kind blew whatever facade of toughness I had left. I know I should have fought harder, but the nerves and the cough and the pressure just got to me. I kind of just rode through the rest of the race for ninth place.

Despite feeling awful most of the afternoon, I still kitted back up for the Little 500 bike race at the end of the day. For my non-Bloomington readers, you've seen "Breaking Away", right? With so few feature films about cycling, I'm going to assume so. Anyway, the race that they ride is a real thing (and humongous deal) at IU. What you may not know is that each four-person team is given two standard official Little 500 bikes, which are very different from any other kind of race bike. They are sort of like really heavy track bikes, but with flat pedals and coaster brakes rather than being fixed geared. The single gear is a 46 x 18 and the tires are wider and more textured than road tires.

So for BloomingCross they had a special category at the end of the day where we had to ride stock Little 500 bikes. They even paid cash prizes three deep. I'd never ridden a Little 500 bike before, but racing CX on one seemed so ridiculous that I had to try it. It turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. The coaster brakes weren't so bad, because I normally hold my feet parallel going through turns anyway, so I just had to make sure they were set the way I wanted them and lean back on my rear foot a bit more than I normally would have. Conditions were dry, so the semi-slick tires weren't an issue, and while the gearing was something I would normally only use for paved starts, I was able to make it up all the hills without walking. I was going about 2 mph a few times, but I made it.

I ended up third out of five girls, which was okay considering that I was last when we hit the grass at the beginning. It took me a lap to figure out what I was doing and then I was able to pass a couple of girls. I also lost some time in the sand pit, because I took the time to grab every dollar that people had stuck in the sand. I heard that this was annoying the coach of some of the other girls in the race, because I wasn't leaving any for them, but after several weeks of watching hella focused elite men turn down dollar bill hand-ups when they were 35th place, I was determined to milk my one shot at the "money pit" for all it was worth. I ended the race with my sports bra stuffed with seven sweaty, crumpled dollar bills, and then I got a check for $20 more for my third place finish. Mostly it just gave me a chance to have fun and blow out some of the crud I'd been feeling.

Now I have a couple of weeks to rest, finish getting well, and maybe even train a little. A little part of me is afraid that I peaked at Gun Club, and that I might lose my form in the last half of the season. Hopefully, that will not be the case. It's funny, because I still have 12 races scheduled, but only three that I consider "important". I really only care about doing well in the last three OVCX and getting some better places so that I can drop the seventh, eighth, and ninth places that are currently dragging down my score. For now, I guess I just need to enjoy my break, and do my best when Adam and I return to our old home town of Muncie in a couple of weeks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sun's Out/ Gun's Out

No, this isn't another post about my arm muscles. After a damp and frigid weekend in Dayton, Indian Summer returned to the Ohio Valley, and made for a somewhat toasty weekend of racing.

Saturday was an Indiana Cyclocross Cup series race near Indianapolis. Although it's a bit burdensome to be racing a whole other series on top of OVCX, Adam's team director has been the driving force trying to get this series going the last couple of years, and now it seems that it's actually coming to fruition. While Indiana is making headway in the regional cyclocross world, we are still kind of the awkward third wheel to the Cincinnati and Louisville epicenters. It seems that many Indianapolis folks are interested in trying 'cross, but don't want to commit to the 2-3 hour drives every weekend (sometimes twice). As a Bloomingtonian, I fully accept that racing equals driving (often on two lane roads). We are pretty darn lucky just to have BloomingCross and the DINO race at Brown County. However, if the ICX Cup is the free taste that gets more Indiana folks hooked on the 'cross crack, I'm willing to do a little bit more driving to help it along.

Anyway, it was a beautiful sunny day, and I'd hoped it would be warm enough to wear my new rhinestoned pink gloves before it got cold again. It definitely was. Temperatures were over 80 degrees by the time we took our 1:00 pm start. That's not that hot for racing mountain bikes in the middle of summer, but when you're racing full bore in an open field with no tree cover and you've lost your acclimation from the summer, it's HOT.

We actually had a decent-sized field, with seven Cat 3/4 Open women and one 35+. Although eliminating the term "women's 3/4" from the public cyclocross consciousness is my cause célèbre (we need wristbands), the ICX series isn't quite "there" yet. As of Saturday, determining where Cat 3 women should go was not a problem, as there were none. Just eight 4's and two 2's. Gotta fill out that elite class.

Anyway, despite being small, our field was definitely not weak. I knew that I would have my hands full trying to stay with Valerie and Rebecca, but 14-year-old Chloe, who had kicked some butt during the last half of the DINO series was a last minute entry, as well. As it turned out, I didn't get much of a chance to see how long I could hang with them. The starting area was very narrow, and I got caught by a domino-effect of bar-banging and had to dab, reset, and get going again while the rest of the field rode away. It took me over half a lap to make it up to fourth place, and by the time I did, the top three were out of sight. I had to turn myself inside out just to hold my position, but I was able to keep it together to the end. Since the overall winner was a 35+, I still made the podium and finished where I expected to, but the gap was much bigger than I had hoped.

Sunday was my first time at the Gun Club. I was looking forward to this race, because it is the favorite course of about every mountain bike-oriented 'crosser I know. The pre-registration list was a little intimidating, because it was essentially a confluence of every woman who had beaten me in an OVCX race this year all showing up on once, along with quite a few others, since there were 34 women in our field.

After pre-riding the course, and noticing quite a few slick and/or technical choke points, I knew I needed to ride like hell and not get caught up behind too many people. So I did. Rebecca and a junior rider took off fast, but I stayed close and only gave up one position on the long open stretch before the sandpit. That is pretty good for me on a long open stretch, but it was still one position too many. I had to be careful negotiating the sandpit and the tight turn up to the barriers behind the other rider, but no mistakes were made and by the next open section we'd caught the junior girl in second. I knew the most technical sections were coming up so I passed them both. The junior girl stayed on and passed me back for a while. We battled back and forth for the rest of the race. I tried attacking her a few times early in the third lap, but she matched me every time. I decided to sit on until the flat out-and-back before the finish, since I had been faster in that section on the previous two laps, but she got a little gap and I was not quite able to make it up by the finish. I did, however, reach my recently stated goal of getting a top three overall, and I was only 10 seconds out of first. I would call it a damn good good day of racing for me.

This picture is actually from last weekend at Gearfest, but I thought it was a good one.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hi! My Name Is...

Well, she doesn't have one yet. Nor has she yet been set up with all of the proper pink accoutrement's that come with being a member of my bike fleet. You see, all of my other bikes were planned, saved, and slaved for over the course of months. This girl was more of a surprise, albeit a happy one.

I've been in "a new road bike would be nice" mode for maybe a year or so, but wasn't anywhere close to actually saving more or doing anything about it. Then about a week ago I saw Adam flipping through the new Giant catalog, and he pointed to a bike and asked if I liked he color. He was planning on buying an inexpensive bike for the frame and then building it up with the Sram Rival parts left over after he upgraded his "A" 'cross bike to Red. After a bit more discussion, we decided that the Avail Composite 2 might be a good choice, because it was carbon fiber, a nice color, and wouldn't require any parts swapped except for the ones Adam already had. I went to the shop on Monday to try out sizes and last night, my early birthday present arrived.

I used to not be a bike naming person, but it seems that this will be the only bike I have without a name. As is well documented, my 'cross bike is New New, and my old 'cross bike, now commuter is Jake. Although it is embarrassing to admit this publicly, last summer I was contemplating how the plot line of True Blood had so greatly diverged from that of The Southern Vampire Mysteries while knocking out some speedy laps on my 29er at French Lick. During this time, I decided that my tall, sexy, efficient bike must be called Eric. Along that vein, the squishy Anthem at home must be Bill.

Anyway, the new road bike won't have a name from the Sookieverse and probably will not have one from an obscure hip hop roller skating movie, but I'm thinking about other characters from books or movies that might be appropriate. Despite my ultra-geeky admittance above, I am in no way interested in the full pantheon of vampire literature, so if Charlaine Harris is not churning out anything new, you can just as easily find me reading about mysteries solved by 19th century Turkish eunuchs or Maine Coon cats instead of telepathic barmaids. I am considering the name Bhu Fan from the latter series, as both the bike and the character are tiny Asian princesses.

Regardless of what I decide to call her, I'm excited that she is here. I've actually had the Ohio Spring Race Series on my mind a bit lately, after realizing it is how many of my cyclocross competitors occupy their time in the "off season". (Ha ha, CX is supposed to be the off season, but we know that's not true.) My spring/ early summer goals for next year will still revolve around the Ouachita Challenge and trying to *finally* finish my first 100 mile mountain bike race at the Mohican 100, but other than that I think I'm a little over cross country racing. It seems that women's road racing might actually be reaching a critical mass in the region where the race becomes a peloton instead of a mass start time trial. And while being able to beat certain girls in 'cross doesn't mean that I will necessarily beat them on the road, looking over my recent results compared those of last spring's series makes me at least want to give it a shot. Now having a pretty new bike just begging for a public debut, I might just find the motivation to try something a little different in 2012.

Monday, October 3, 2011

OVCX Dayton Weekend: Halfway There

She says we've got to hold on to what we've got
It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not
We got each other and that's a lot
For love we'll give it a shot!

Oh, we're half way there
Oh oh, trainin' on a prayer
Turn those cranks and we'll make it I swear
Oh oh, trainin' on a prayer

It's hard to believe that in the space of 22 days that I've raced six times and the 2011 OVCX series is already half over. The thought of doing another double CX weekend in a row was a little daunting, especially with both races being over three hours away. The complicating factor was that I was leading the series in the Cat 4 Open class and had worked my way up to number one on the call-up list. I just couldn't bear to skip a race and let myself slide back into obscurity.

Adam seemed less interested in beating himself up for call-up spots, so I made the journey to Dayton alone on Saturday morning. The temperatures were in the low fourties and it was windy and drizzling. I think I was still in weather denial since we were racing in hot dusty conditions this time last year, and it didn't really even occur to me to bring leg warmers. I didn't really want to wear them, anyway, because dressing for 'cross is much different that bundling up for winter riding. There is only so much bulk one can put on and when it's in the fourties, you've still got to keep an ace in the hole for when it's in the thirties or even the twenties.

Unfortunately, my attempt to prove my hard(wo)man status kind of failed, because I think I got chilled to the point that I couldn't race well. I got the hole shot, but was quickly passed by a couple of much faster riders and then even more when I went over the first set of barriers and discovered my numb feet weren't clipping back in too well. With three dismounts per lap, slow clip-ins were kind of a problem.

I ended up swapping around with a group of 4-6 girls throughout the race, including Collyn, who had won at AppleCross and had also beaten me at Brookside. We were back and forth, never more than a few bike lengths apart for most of the race. We were sent out for a fourth lap (the first race where I've not been lapped by a SS man and pulled after three) where I tried in vain to shake her from my wheel. With 200m to go she was still there, and while I did my best to sprint, she flew around me and easily made it to the line first. It turned out that we were sprinting for the last podium spot, so I was relegated to fourth and was eighth in the wave.

Sunday was a better day, being sunny and having a couple of key players missing from my category. The course had a couple of long slightly uphill slogs over ground that managed to be both rough and squishy at the same time. I didn't get the best start and I allowed myself to be passed by several people that I shouldn't have during the first quarter lap. After the first barriers, I got myself together and started making places back. By the time I made it through, I was feeling decent, but the leader was way off the front and there was a group of three girls, including my category leader, who still had a big gap on me. I tried hard to shut it down, but in the end they still had about 45 seconds and I ended up second in my category and fifth in my wave.

I was telling Adam that I think I may have already done more races by the beginning of October this season than I did over the entire season any previous year. That might not actually be true, since I was pretty gung-ho at the beginning of 2007 when I had what now seems to be the ridiculous goal of racing the elite category at the first-ever USGP Louisville and not finishing totally off the back. I actually did race the women's "A" category the first few races, but I was totally off the back even against the locals and had to reevaluate my goals. I soon found out that I had a pretty hard time just not getting last in B's.

It's kind of funny trying to imagine what the 2007 me would think of me now. I still have a big jump to make up to anything loosely resembling "elite", and I'm still haven't cracked a top three overall finish (my new goal for the last half of the season). However, I now get to take podium pictures on the reg, and if I just keep plugging away with decent-to-good races, maybe my luck will hold out and I squeak out a series title in December. The 2007 me was really jealous of all of the medium-fast chicks that got to stand on the Cat 3/4 podium. Now I'm one of them.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Muddy Pictures

I just wanted to add this cool sequence of pictures from Sunday that were posted by Cycle Exposure after I'd already written up my race report. I feel lame even mentioning this, but I feel like I'm actually starting look like a lean racer chick in this weekend's photos. Even Emily commented on my muscles in one, although she could just be mocking my interest in analyzing the number and degree of visible muscles I can find in race pictures of myself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Indy CX Weekend

After what seemed like a very long double CX weekend, the logical thing to do is to spend Monday reliving it all by looking at a bajillion Facebook pictures and silly videos, right? In addition to my own blogging, I also volunteered to keep up with the CX coverage for Bloomington VeloNews this season after our esteemed local cycle-razzi Geraint Parry moved back to England last winter. So now I am busy following and photographing the racing exploits of other Bloomington residents in addition to my own. I realize that at least half of my readers come from BVN already, (another 40% are people Googling abdominal scars) but if you want to read what I have to say about other people's races click on over and check it out.

The race course at Brookside on Saturday had a decidedly roadie bias (the course designer would freely admit this intention), so it didn't exactly bode well for my skill set. The field was a little tougher than the one at Fisherman's Park. Before the race I identified a couple of girls who would almost definitely beat me and 3-4 that could go either way. It turned out that 3 of the 4 went the way of beating me, plus another one surprised me. I ended up fourth out of the Cat 4 open and seventh in the wave. I did beat one 35+ women who had beaten me the week before, so that was a positive. Overall, it wasn't an exceptional race for me, but I'd give myself a "meets expectations" on my performance evaluation.

Rain all Saturday night and Sunday made for slick conditions at Ft. Harrison State Park. Although our early race didn't have the epic mudfest conditions of the elite races in the afternoon, the slick turns and sloppy fire road on the back of the course still played to my advantage. I got a good start and stayed with the top three for the better part of the first lap. I then lost contact with them and was eventually passed by one more powerful rider, but I kept it rubber side down for all but one corner and maintained my position for the rest of the race. This left me in third place in the Cat 4 open and a best-ever wave finish of fifth. I managed to beat a couple more good 35+ women from previous races, and even if it doesn't sound as good as "winning" at Fisherman's park, it was probably my best performance so far this season. The girls that got first and second in my category were really strong and racing for the first time this season. Luckily, one was just on a short weekend stopover before her Cat 3 upgrade, so I still feel like I might have a decent chance at winning the series. There's still a long way to go, though.

Besides the racing, the best part of the weekend was actually spectating during the muddy elite races. There were a bunch of crazy people handing out money and beer at the barriers. Luckily, someone made this awesome video of the festivities, which is bound to become a classic of "Joey's Okay" proportions.

Monday, September 19, 2011

And This One Time, at Fisherman's Park

For so many years, I had to tell the story: "No, I've never actually won a race. At least not one with other people in it. Well, except for this one time at Brookside in 2006, I beat one girl, and it was awesome."

And then my day came. I climbed to the top step of a real live cyclocross podium at a real live OVCX race, and this is the picture I have to prove it:

Looks a whole heck of a lot like, "this one time I beat this one girl", huh?

Well, don't let the picture fool you. It was a tough battle getting there.

A steady drizzle through the morning left the grass on the course slick, although no real mud had started to build up when I took my practice lap. I wasn't feeling too great, mostly due to nerves. It didn't help that my bike seemed to weigh 20 pounds more than the sprightly steed that I'd ridden at Applecross the week before. When I finished the lap, I realized why and didn't feel so bad.

All of the wet grass was clogging my brakes and making my bike look like Swamp Thing:

Adam got it cleaned off and loosened my brakes a little to compensate for the buildup that would happen during the race, and then I had to just line up and hope for the best. Three categories started in my wave: Cat 4 open women, Cat 4 35+ women, and junior girls 15-18. We were all mixed together and then separated on the results at the end.

I got a nice front-row center call-up and a decent start off the line. I was in third until the first barrier, but lost a few places before a particularly tight turn where a I got caught behind a crash and lost a couple more. I started to make up the ground and then I was bumped off course when I tried to pass a girl on a twisty up and down section. It was probably mostly my fault for not calling out that I was passing, but I was a little too gassed to yell and hoped I could sneak through.

So the first lap concluded with me chase mode, and it stayed that way until about a third of the way into the third lap. At that point, I had lost the wave leaders, but still seemed to be in good position within my age group and was making up ground on who I thought was the category leader. Then a couple of girls passed me and I started getting worried. Fortunately, the last half of the course had a lot of off-camber and slick up-and-down turns. Rather than killing it, I stayed calm and focused on being smooth and mistake-free. This worked perfectly, as I managed to pass back the two girls who'd just caught me and finish off the one I'd been chasing all race when they each made mistakes on the slick stuff.

Clearing the last technical section, I gunned it as hard as I could to get away from the girls I'd just passed. There was still a chance that I'd have to defend for a fourth lap if no singlespeed men lapped me before the finish line. Part of me wanted to get a fourth lap in, because I knew some of the top women in the wave would, but I was also 95% sure that I was leading the under-35 race and really just wanted to seal my win. So when I glanced over so see the rider coming around me before the final uphill was male, I said a silent thank you and pushed with all my might to make sure no women passed me before the finish.

Even though I got to stand on the top step of the podium, I was still beaten by a couple of hella fast juniors and four women from the 35+ category. So my first "win" still feels like unfinished business. I want to make it to the for-real top of my wave and not the arbitrarily age-graded top. The good news is that I'll head to Brookside on Saturday with greater confidence and try to climb a little further up the ladder. It should be good. After all, I did beat that one girl there that one time.

Speaking of confidence, I wore these nifty socks yesterday. Sure they match my kit, but they also just kind of spoke to me. I mean, it's just a little easier to have swagger in competition when your socks are "cocky":

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Huber's Applecross

So the test results are in. New wheels: freakin' awesome. Body: meh, pretty good.

I got a good start at Huber's Applecross today. I contended for the hole shot with a girl from Illinois who had won the day before, and when the course narrowed into the first turn I let her take the lead. The pace seemed a little slow through the first part of the course, so I passed her right before the apple orchard section (mmm, rotten apple smell). Unfortunately, I found myself being flung through the air at the exit of the orchard. A closer inspection on the next lap revealed a pretty large hole camouflaged by the grass that I'd failed to notice on my pre-ride.

The cool thing was that while I scrambled to get back on the bike I realized that I gapped the field enough that I almost had time to remount and keep going without losing my lead, but I panicked at bit and didn't move efficiently enough. I tacked onto the back of the lead group and tried to regain my senses, but things got pretty crazy shortly thereafter. There was a weird section where the course appeared to go down a steep off camber hill and then back up. However, it was taped wide enough that I could ride the high side of the downhill and low side of the uphill so that it was more of just a zig zag with a few pedal strokes of climbing. I got caught up behind a lot of traffic in that section and the climb ending in a run-up after it. Some of the 35+ women were catching up at that point and I kind of lost my bearings as to my place in the pack. A couple of crashes in front of me on the gravel-to-grass transition right before the sand pit during the second lap made things even less clear. I just tried to maintain at point.

The middle laps were rough because, even though I'd made up a few places, I'd lost sight of the leaders. I also had a two or three girls following me that I needed to hold off. It's ironic that I just did a blog post on how awesome it is to have people cheering for me during races, because I was getting the complete opposite today. Amongst a Louisville-heavy crowd being pursued by several Louisville girls, I was mostly hearing cheers for my competitors and knowing that they were still in hot pursuit. One finally got around me and started to slip away when I saw the lap board and realized we were in for four laps instead of three. I got close to making the place back during the last lap, but didn't quite make it. When we crossed the finish line, it was announced that we were second and third. At that point I was a little disappointed that I hadn't fought harder for second, but at least I'd made my first real cyclocross podium.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Time to 'Cross

Sunday I will be testing out my body and my new wheels at Huber's Applecross before things really heat up with the beginning of the OVCX series. I did have a minute or two a couple of weeks ago where I suddenly wished I was continuing my 6 solo streak at the DINO 24, but it passed pretty quickly. If I'm going to be racing every weekend until Christmas, it's probably best to keep it to 30-40 minute bouts.

Anyway, I figured I'd get myself and everyone else pumped up with what became my unofficial CX anthem last season. Weird choice, I know. I think it started last season going up that annoying steep section at Fisherman's Park when I heard Fred Rose yelling, "You're a warrior!" I'm not even sure if it was intended for me or for his girlfriend who was likely on a nearby section of the course that just happened to be half a lap or so ahead of me. Regardless, it made me laugh and maybe made me push a little harder for a while. I realized that with so many vocal 'cross peeps and the short and twisty courses, it's pretty hard to go more than a minute or two without a friend yelling for you. So it's more about the feeling than the exact lyrics, but "somewhere in the crowd there's you" is pretty much everyone I know instead of any specific person. Plus, the peppy beat eases the pain just a little.

Good luck to everyone tuning it up at Applecross or Lionhearts CX or topping it off at the DINO 24 Hour this weekend! I guess we'll all converge again in Louisville in a week.

Monday, August 29, 2011

End of MTB Quotes

"... like a f***ing roller coaster for hillbillies." - Tomasz Golas

"Cycling is a bitchy sport at times..." - Jamie Scott

"Well, MTB season is officially over. Can't say I'm heartbroken. Had a couple good races early on, mostly shit otherwise." - Adam Rodkey

I almost feel like I don't need to write a whole post on this; my husband's tweet above says it all. The other two are just kind of funny/fitting.

Yesterday I wrapped up the disappointing last half of my XC mountain bike season. When I look back I realize that it was mostly disappointing because I won the first race of the season, and then it went downhill from there. Without that initial success, I could have just gone through the season with the excuse that I was just coming back from surgery and was focusing on cyclocross. As it turned out, I tossed those excuses to the wind, tried to reach beyond the comfort of mediocrity, and failed.

"Held up so high on such a breakable thread" - Avril Lavigne

It's hard to decide how I should feel about this. I knew that first win wasn't against particularly strong competition. However, as the season progressed more girls started racing or moved up from Cat 3, and winning wasn't so easy. I was the slowest women's Cat 2 winner in the history of the BCSP race and the fastest last place in the history of Logansport. My eight place time from yesterday was faster than the second place time at the same race when I first raced Sport/Cat 2 back in 2007. (I know the course has been altered, but the men's times are about the same so it's not just a faster course.) So it's not like I actually did super bad the last the last few races, but at the same time it's frustrating, after six seasons of racing, to be competing against girls who have been at it less than two years and not be winning.

"The competition's getting younger. Tougher broncs, you know I can't recall." - Garth Brooks

In reality, I was faster overall this season than I ever have been, but only by a small amount. In light of the fact that I did have major surgery over the winter and trained fewer hours, I guess even a small improvement should be a happy surprise. I feel like I'm actually a lot faster for the first 30 minutes or so of the race, but I'm just not able to maintain it. I'm kind of hoping that the improvement to my top end will be more pronounced in 'cross races where 30 minutes is all I'll need.

So for better or worse, another mountain bike season is in the books. I have a nice mental list of things to do differently next year, but for now, all I can do is move on and try to have the best 'cross season I can with the fitness I have.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ground Control

I never could bring myself to write a race report from the Versailles race, because I'm still upset about it. I got into a verbal spat with another competitor, and I feel like an ass for it. Not a completely unjustified ass, but an ass nonetheless. I've been struggling with how my perception of things may or may not actually line up with reality (still not sure). I've finally come to the conclusion that regardless of how the other girl's past actions have contributed to my frustration and possibly the frustrations of other riders, as well, it was ultimately my responsibility to not let myself get so upset worrying about other people's actions. It's just a damn hard thing to do.

Also, I ran out of gas mid-race and finished fourth, which I felt was pretty dumpster. I'm sure the wasted expenditure of emotional energy didn't help.

I'd still been feeling "off" since I got back from Oklahoma four weeks ago (smacked head?), so I took Friday off from work to allow a nice three-day weekend and the chance to regroup a bit. I'm not sure what the deal was. I wasn't sleeping well, and was showing physical signs of stress, although I couldn't really name any particular thing I was worried about. Regardless, I thought an extra day of sleeping in, followed by a morning of light and not mentally taxing physical activity, would do me good. So I swapped my Thursday intervals for a Friday mountain bike ride at Brown County. A couple of hours at chill-axed pace did me good.

Green Valley

Later that day, I found out that my new cyclocross wheels had arrived. They are Velocity Major Tom rims with Ultegra hubs. I apparently also have "custom" tires, although I have only seen them on Twitter. The new wheels are not super fancy, but I'm looking forward to making the jump from clinchers to tubulars. Hopefully, the "unparalleled ground control" will help me step up my game this season.

Should have taken the picture before Adam started the gluing magic.

In other 'cross news, the registration pages for some of this season's races have begun to open and it appears that the campaign to get a Cat 3 women's class for the OVCX series was mostly successful. I say mostly because, while there will be a separate Cat 3 women's class for registration and scoring, they will race at the same time and for the same prize purse as the Cat 1/2's, as well as the newly formed Elite 35+ women's class. I feel like these category changes will help create a more defined path for riders progressing through the sport, and will give everyone a place where they belong, even if we don't all get separate swag.

After obsessing over the creation of a Cat 3 women's class for the last year, I certainly would like to participate in it. However, I'm a little scared of getting in over my head for the first race. So I'm strongly leaning toward racing Cat 4 for the first race and trying to earn my upgrade. Upgrading is easier than downgrading; plus I'm a strong advocate of "the upgrade points system is in place for a reason" and feel like I should earn my spot in the next category up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Catching Up

I keep telling myself that I'm going to sit down and write a blog post that isn't a race report, but I just haven't been inspired. I guess it beats a day-to-day accounting of the average power of every interval I perform, but I've gone too far in the other direction.

Anyway, I had a nice trip back to see my parents in Oklahoma during the first week of July. Since my impending surgery interfered with my normal Christmas trip, I hadn't been to see them in 15 months.

While I was there, my mom and I ran the annual Fireball Classic 5k. It had been a running joke since last summer when she was reading the results of last year's race in the paper and decided that she needed to the race "someday". While I was in the hospital, we decided that we would both do it this year and started in on the smack-talking about who was going to beat who. However, since I healed and got back to cycling faster than I expected, I really didn't do much running in preparation, except for an 800m warm up before my gym sessions. As the race grew closer, my mom seemed to grow unsatisfied with the idea of just walking the 5k and wanted to run, but she was also not very confident in her ability to do so. She set the goal of "finishing in a number less than [her] age".

As it turns out, she finished in 37 minutes and third in her age group, but didn't get her medal due to a mix-up. I also finished in a number less than my age, but at 29:18, it wasn't by much. I still figure that sub-30 is acceptable since I don't really run anymore.

I returned from Oklahoma around 9 p.m. on Friday night, only to unpack and then re-pack the car to go to the Rangeline Rampage time trial the next morning. I wasn't really thrilled about the idea of getting up early and racing the morning after an all-day drive, but after reviewing the results from the Muscatatuck short track race, it looked like I needed to go get the bonus points if I still wanted to be in contention for the DINO series championship. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I care about winning the series championship, but I kind of do.

Unfortunately, all of the voices that were telling me to forget about the stupid bonus points and stay home, go to the farmer's market, and do my scheduled 2 x 20 minute intervals were right. I was completely lacking in mojo, and while I thought my Anthem would be the right bike for a twisty, technical time trial, I'm just not comfortable on it anymore. Things went from bad to worse when I was grasping at straws to try and hold off the girl that started 30 seconds back, then endoed coming off a higher than expected log drop/jump thing. My head was ringing, it took a little while until I felt like getting up. When I did, I carefully traversed the rest of the course (9 bonus points still beats 0).

I thought I was okay, but a splitting headache, nausea, and difficultly concentrating on the drive back to Bloomington had me scared that I had a concussion. I stopped by Bloomington Hospital ER before going home, and it turns out I just "rattled my brain" a bit. I'm not really sure where the dividing line is, but I guess that if it was a true concussion I would have been too loopy to complete the race, much less a two-hour drive after. Some Tylenol and a nap cleared up the majority of the headache, and it still comes and goes a few days later. I also have a killer black eye now that the swelling had started to move from my eyebrow down to the lid.

Monday, June 20, 2011

DINO French Lick: Daring Feats of Reckless Bravery

"In keeping with their credo of ‘Die biting the throat,’ a gnoll in haouka will take progressively greater risks, performing more and more daring feats of reckless bravery until she is killed."

Going out with the leaders. Thanks to Janelle Renschler for the photo.

Well, I failed to garner another win at DINO French Lick. I know that's kind of a bummer way to put it, but after my first win at Brown County, I was hungry for another, and it seemed very possible.

The race morning was strange, since early morning thunderstorms left us wondering if the race was on or off. Unable to get through to the DINO hotline, we set out and kept calling along the way. When Adam finally got through about two hours before the start time and over halfway there, there was no message either way. We assumed it was on.

The parking lot was so scarcely populated when we arrived that for a while I wondered how much competition there would actually be. However, there were some women from Missouri parked next to us and one of them was in my category. I knew nothing about her, so I just decided I would do my best to beat her to the singletrack and let the chips fall where they may.

By the time the race started, there were five Cat 1 girls and five Cat 2, including the girl who got second at Brown County. In this case, I knew I had to beat her to the top of the first hill so that I could gap her in on the downhill. Otherwise, I would end up engaged in a painful and frustrating back-and-forth like many times last season, which usually did not end well for me. Basing my strategy off of a fast start followed by a long max-effort climb is not the way I'd prefer to do things, but it was what I had to do in that situation.

So at the start I dove into my reckless feat of bravery. I shot out across the flooded driving range right behind the top three Cat 1 girls, and hoped that no one was too close behind me. Hitting the singletrack climb was painful, but I did my best to keep my composure, spin, and try to be as smooth as possible. Unfortunately, as I struggled to find my maximum sustainable pace going up the hill, the clicks of gears and chains behind me indicated that the pace was not fast enough to lose the competition. Early on I was passed by a Cat 1 girl with the Cat 2 girl from Missouri closely on her wheel. So I now I knew something about her: she was pretty darn fast.

At least the clicking behind me had subsided and I thought I could hold on for second. At the next switchback, it even looked like I had a decent gap. But the climb was just too long, and I was unable to hold off the next girl until the top. By the time she passed me, I was in full explosive state and I finally had to back off a bit. So I ended up being clear for the downhill after all, but not in the way I wanted. I limped my way through the rest of the lap for third. I think I would normally be happy with that, but I was mostly disappointed to have been outmatched by someone I know I can beat.

Now I have time to lick my wounds and come back fighting at Versailles. The last two weeks were kind of hard for me, because it took me a full week to feel normal after my effort at Brown County. Normally I struggle with a "phantom pedaling" sensation in my legs when I try to go to sleep the night after a race. After Brown County, I had that sensation for three nights. By the time I felt normal again, I didn't want to push myself too hard in training so that I would be fresh for French Lick. Not that I think two weeks of suboptimal training had much influence on my race result, but my plans have actually shifted to a 100% cyclocross focus for fall so I'm really supposed to just be training through all of the cross country races. I want to get back on track with that plan as soon as possible. Luckily, I get a rest week, a full training block, and another rest week before Versailles, so that should be perfect.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

DINO BCSP: Die Biting the Throat

A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast where J. Stanton, the author of The Gnoll Credo, was being interviewed. The book sounded interesting from the interview, so I decided to go to the website and read the first chapter. The first chapter ends with the actual Gnoll Credo, which is pretty much rules of living for the gnolls, which are hyena/human hybrids. The final rule is "Die biting the throat."

When I bought the book from publisher's "Save the Serengeti" page, I received a signed copy with a nice note from the author and quite a few stickers, including four that said, "Die Biting the Throat". I decided that one of them needed to go on the top tube of my mountain bike.

Fast forward to this weekend. I still hadn't actually put the sticker on my bike, but a training cycle of many puke-tastic sets of 30 second sprints had seriously enhanced my ability to push myself, even if my power numbers still weren't as awesome as I'd hoped. I wasn't sure how I felt about my first race at DINO BCSP, because I didn't really know what kind of shape I was in. However, I decided to go into the race with as little expectation about performance as possible, but at the same time to adopt "Die Biting the Throat" as my own credo. Basically, if I wasn't fit enough to do well, that was okay, but whatever happened, I was going to go down swinging.

So we lined up and I scanned the field. There weren't that many Cat 2's and only one I recognized. I knew I had to do my best to be the first in my class to reach the top of the paved climb, since I hate being held up on the downhill singletrack. We took off and I was easily clear of all the Cat 2 girls and the Cat 1's weren't pulling away at the speed they normally do. One Cat 2 girl came around me for a bit where the climb flattens out a little, but when the pitch increased I shoved myself into the hurt box and re-passed her along with two Cat 1 women. I had made it through the first major obstacle of the race, and now I just had to keep it together and hold my lead.

One Cat 1 girl came around once we started climbing, and Emily, who was in Cat 1, passed me about halfway through the North Tower loop. However, she didn't pull away quickly, so I had a carrot to chase up until the Aynes climb. I glanced back early on and saw a girl from my category and panicked a bit, but I just rode as hard as I could and miraculously crested the climb without being caught. At that point I knew that I had a pretty good shot at hanging on for the win, but I still had to be conscientious. I did my best to rip the descent, push as hard as I could on the little ups and downs, and made it to the North Tower climb. Just five more minutes hard, and a screaming descent, and I had it. When I topped that climb, I knew I'd win, and a mile of downhill later, I did.

So I'd call my first race back from surgery a huge success. I think part of it is that I'm not taking myself so damn seriously this year, but at the same time I'm learning to be tougher when it counts. I also think I got lucky with the field today, but hey, a win's a win. I'm definitely hoping to repeat at French Lick in a couple of weeks, since that is my favorite course.

In case I forget sometime between now and June 18, I installed this when I got home from the race:

Monday, May 2, 2011

April Is The New January

I've been meaning to write this post since the DINO Spring Tune-up was cancelled, essentially pushing my first race of the year all the way to DINO BCSP on June 5. Actually, I'd decided not to race a couple of days before the cancellation, due to the fact that Adam wanted the car to go to a road race day, I'd forgotten to renew my USAC license and hadn't accounted for an extra $60 in my April budget, and frankly, I just didn't feel ready to race yet.

I planned my season knowing that I would be behind for the spring and summer, and that I would be okay with that, but this April has felt much more like January than April. Many factors are contributing to this: the fact that I just completed my first base training cycle, the fact that I'm still five weeks away from my first "race" and even that doesn't feel real, and the fact that I've not been on my mountain bike the entire month. I was lucky enough to get one ride at French Lick in February and one at BCSP in March, but between the weather and trying to get reacquainted with intervals, mountain bike riding fell by the wayside in the last month. I'm actually feeling a little paranoid about my lack of trail time, but I have 17 weeks left to prep for The Unnamed Epic. Perhaps I'll take more advantage of the drier months of July and August this year, rather than being burned out by then like I normally am.

Here is one more January-like sign:

Yes, I've actually been on the trainer a couple of times. Of course, I usually won't get on that thing even in January, but I'm trying an experiment. I've been wavering back and forth about trying intermittent fasting (IF) for a couple of months, but I finally took the leap a couple of weeks ago. I've done quite well at making it until lunch time on just a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil around 8:30 or 9. Since I no longer need to take the time to prepare and eat breakfast, I have an additional half-hour or so more free time in the morning than I used to. Three days a week, I use it to get extra sleep. However, on Tuesday and Thursday I'm playing on the "fasted endurance in the morning, strength in the afternoon" paradigm from the Strength Training for Cyclists blog series that I mentioned in my last post. I basically get up and pedal easy for 30 minutes before I get ready for work, so that I get an extra boost to the efficiency of my fat metabolism. Hopefully, a few months of this result in a killer diesel engine to power through 75 miles of Wisconsin hills in August.

I'm actually finding the trainer more tolerable than I have in the past, probably due to the more relaxed effort. I really do just spin and check my email on my phone while old episodes of Full House play in the background. Ironically, the first morning of this routine involved an episode where DJ decides to starve herself to look good a pool party and is inundated with sorts of CW advice from the family. And Michelle crawls up on a table and shoves a bunch of cake in her face. I can only hope it was the Olsen twin that later developed an eating disorder playing that scene.

Anyway, things seem to be going pretty well, despite the feeling of being behind. The coming training cycle will be hard and fast, and hopefully the weather will start allowing me to do some Sunday rides on my mountain bike.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

One Less Skinny Cyclist

So I guess official cycling training for 2011 is under way.

As I've stated before, my plan was to spend 12 weeks focusing on Crossfit, with a little bit of base miles, and then go back to "official training" in May. I think I've discussed the reasons for this a bit, but I don't think I've ever discussed the real reasons. Yes, I wanted a chance to build my muscle back after my surgery, but it's a little more complicated than that. I really just couldn't see myself going back to cycling training as I knew it before I switched to a primal/paleo/whatever diet last August. I had struggled through the first few weeks on the diet, which is likely due to the fact that I was transitioning to a fat-based metabolism. Then the pancreas drama set in and gave me an "out". I hadn't really wanted "out" in the middle 'cross season, but as I've stated several times, I've been glad for the opportunity to step back and figure out what I want to do.

The fact of the matter is that I definitely still wanted to race bikes, but I didn't want to go back to my old way of doing things. What has been seen cannot be unseen, and what is known cannot be unknown. I've spent all these months hearing how "chronic cardio" is bad for me, and how too many carbs will make me fat. I also know it's not just hype, because for the first time after over 10 years as an endurance athlete, I sleep through the night without getting up to use the bathroom, my ankles don't swell up at work nearly as much as they used to, and I'm generally less irritable and unmotivated. The answer, my friends, is in the cortisol. Life is much better with less of it.

Unfortunately, for quite some time I struggled to figure out how to live a lifestyle where I could enjoy these benefits and still be somewhat fast on a bike. All the advice I was getting from the paleo-sphere was eat more sweet potatoes and that Robb Wolf really, really didn't care about endurance sports. I won't even get started on my thoughts on "The Paleo Diet for Athletes". So I figured I'd stall with a few months of Crossfit and maybe get my body composition where I wanted it before I threw myself to the cardio wolves again.

Then I saw a Twitter post about Jamie Scott's High Fat Diet for Cyclists and Strength Training for Cyclists blog series, and was hooked. He was saying that eating the diet that I was already eating could actually boost my aerobic efficiency, and he ranted on skinny cyclists. At 113 pounds, I'm still pretty skinny, and don't really want to gain more total weight, but I've long regretted the fact that I was a weak cyclist (even when I weighed quite a bit more). Reading these posts gave me hope that I could actually become a lean and strong cyclist (and even be able to do a pull-up??), and maybe not feel like I had to spend every minute of free time on my bike, either. The only thing I was missing was the specifics of how to implement these principles.

So a few weeks ago when my Crossfit workouts starting causing me to wake up in the middle of the night, I emailed Jamie to ask. As of last week, I'm on the "Paleo 2.0 for Cyclists" plan. This involves two days of intervals, two days of heavy but short lifting, and one day of endurance riding. The strength training is pretty bare-bones heavy stuff, and I'm able to keep doing it at the Crossfit facility, since I hate traditional gyms and like being able to play on the ropes and rings a bit after the heavy lifting. Weekend workouts are done in a fasted state before breakfast. This is kind of a struggle, but I think it's more mental than physical. It's more of a matter of wanting to eat before I ride than actually needing to, because my metabolism is in pretty good shape. It does make breakfast ever more enjoyable once the ride's over, though. My power kind of sucks right now, but it's no lower than it was when I started my 2009 "official training", and I was 25 pounds heavier then, so power-to-weight isn't terrible.

I guess we will have to wait until August 27 to see the full results of this experiment, but I'm feeling pretty good so far.