Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ceraland 2.0: My Billy Brubaker Moment

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on this old post, and I've been meaning revisit it ever since. The reason is that when I read the post I realized that, although it took two years to happen, I finally got my Billy Brubaker moment and even got a picture to prove it.:

In case you didn't click through above, my definition of a Billy Brubaker moment is a small success that gives you the confidence to achieve bigger successes.  Although I spent the days following last fall's AppleCross wondering what would have happened if I hadn't crashed myself out of the lead, at the end of the season I had a pretty good idea.  I could have won the pre-season race and ended up Cat 3 pack fill, instead of getting third, realizing that I wasn't ready to cat up yet, and becoming the OVCX Cat 4 women's champion.  Some might argue that Cat 3 pack fill is better, but after five years of being pack fill (at best), I needed the season of learning to battle it out weekend after weekend with something that I considered worth winning on the line.  I'm also sure that those lessons will prove more useful in the future than another season of struggling for "not last" would have.  Sometimes small successes are better than big ones.

Anyway, this weekend was the redux of the Ceraland circuit race that I originally blew off for gardening.  Since all but one of the scheduled races were cancelled due to the severe weather, the promoter brought it back this weekend, and included a women's Cat 4 race, as opposed to the single 1/2/3/4 race offered the first time around.  So I figured it was a good time to get back on the road racing horse after kicking my season off with a DFL and a DNF (yeah...left that one off the blog) back in March.  There were five of us in the race, but we started in the same group as the Cat 5 men.  Things started off badly with me once again not knowing what to do with myself on the downhill corner going into the beginning of the second lap.  I got gapped and couldn't (or wouldn't) close, and quickly found myself alone and disgusted with myself for wasting $35 and the drive over to Columbus for five minutes of racing.

Then I realized that with the speed I had been dropped, I would be lapped quickly and that this was a good thing.  I just had to be ready when the pack came by, and I could at least still get some good racing experience in, even if my result was still another DFL.  However, as I heard the wheels behind me, sped up, and successfully re-integrated myself with the group, I realized that there was only one girl left from the starting group.  I just had to stay on until we caught the others and I would have a shot at getting myself back out of last place.  Once I was in again, it wasn't that hard to stay there, except for each time through the turn where I got dropped the first time, when I would have to pedal with all my might to keep contact until the group slowed again.  I'm not sure how many laps I stayed there, but it was enough to pass two other girls who didn't jump into the pack, and I realized that I had snuck my way onto the podium.  I did get dropped again when the group sped up a bit with five laps to go, but then I had something to fight for and was able to maintain my place soloing in the last few laps.

Unfortunately, for my first road race "podium", they didn't actually have a podium, but they did give a cash payout instead of merchandise prizes, a rarity for Cat 4 women.  So even though I felt like a bit of a jerk for getting on the podium by cunning rather than speed, it definitely felt like a huge victory for me since it was about the first smart thing I've done in a road race ever.  I'll only do handful of other road races over the rest of the spring and summer, since I'm trying not to overdo the racing before 'cross season starts, but I'm crossing my fingers that today will prove to be the Billy Brubaker moment of my road racing career.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hippie Things I Did This Weekend: The Square Foot Garden

Both my training plan and the part of me that wants to someday not suck at road racing said that I should race on Saturday.  There was no shortage of choices:  OSRS Germantown, the Ceraland circuit race just down the road in Columbus, or rarely-seen 30+ woman fields at Hillsborough Roubaix in Illinois.  The only problem was transportation.  Adam wanted to do Ceraland, but that was last-place in my choices.  If I'm going to race road, it needs to be in a group big enough (preferably Cat 4 or at least 3/4 only) to allow me to practice burying myself in the pack and hiding from the wind.  I've still got to get that skill down before I move on to more advance things.  Ceraland only had one girl pre-registered, and even if more were to show up, it would be a small, mixed 1/2/3/4 field, which pretty much means it would have turned into a time-trial for me after about 5 minutes.  My teammate Sarah had mentioned possibly making the trip to Hillsborough-Roubaix, so I thought I could maybe get a ride with her, but I didn't want to be an inconvenience since my race would have started an hour earlier than hers.  As the weekend drew closer and I was filled with indecision, I knew what I really wanted to do: build my Square Foot Garden.

I've toyed with a little garden off the back porch for a couple of years, but I've really been wanting to make the jump to something that was a legitimate food source and not just a weed patch where I'd remember to plant and harvest stuff every couple of months.  I bought the book "All New Square Foot Gardening" last fall, but being cyclocross season, it kind of got pushed aside.  Then the weather got nice and I realized I was under the gun if I wanted to actually get everything planted, so I sat down and read the whole book last weekend.  Then, while spending week trying to commit to race plans, I was plotting my Friday trip to Lowe's to gather supplies.  The plan was to race Saturday and build a garden on Sunday, but it was obvious that my heart was way more into the gardening project, so I decided to just knock it out and improve my road racing skills on some other day when I was more into it.

So after three hours or so of shopping, hauling, and stacking supplies on Friday, and another seven hours of hard labor in the rain on Saturday (would have been a crappy day to race, anyway).  I now have 48 neatly arranged squares of super special "Mel's Mix" soil in which to lay out a lovely food supply that will mature in waves rather than sticking with pounds of ripe whatevers at once.  The main garden is three boxes that are six inches deep with mulched areas in-between to keep Adam from having to mow so much.

Then, in the side yard, I have a 12-inch deep box that will be used for longer carrots, potatoes, and other larger root crops.  I'm also going to put a trellis on the north side where winter squash vines can climb without blocking sunlight from the rest of the plants.

The project was a lot of work, and I think I may have already blown my annual vegetable budget, but it should provide a lot of low-maintenance growing years to come.  Hopefully I can learn a lot this year and add a couple more boxes next year, so that I can produce almost all of our household vegetables myself.  I can't fully explain my motivation for this, as shopping at the farmer's market already provides pretty good separation between myself and the industrial food system, but it will be nice to be able to race on Saturday mornings without the annoying consequence of having to eat grocery store vegetables.  I still don't have an egg solution, since my research so far has shown that, unless you live in a rural area with no restrictions on number of birds or the amount of space you have to move them to fresh grass daily, backyard hens are more of pets with benefits than a real food source.  I guess that it is just an extension of the realization that I've made since I've started buying most of my food from local farmers, that there is so much more to the food world than what you see in a grocery stores and that even "normal" vegetables are so much better in the home-grown form because of the varieties used.  Whether plant or animal, if something has been bred for mass production, it's almost inevitable that compromises have been made in the flavor.  Now that I have my own little backyard lab, I can experience the full range of what different types of vegetables are really supposed to taste like.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Want It Wednesday: Doc's All Natural Chamois Cream

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I actually avoided chamois cream for the first few years that I raced bikes.  Back in the early days, Adam got me a tub of the Assos stuff that he uses, but it never really caught on with me.  However, after the winter of 2010 when Emily and I endured so many long, cold, damp winter rides, I began to rethink my position.  Then Velo Bella scored Hoo Ha Ride Glide as a sponsor, so I decided to give it a shot.  It turned out that I really liked it, and half a bottle or so made my failed attempts at both the Ouachita Challenge and Syllamo's revenge that spring much more pleasant.

2010 was also supposed to be the year that I started "taking 'cross seriously" again.  Equipped with a new bike, I was ready to conquer the whole OVCX series from start to finish for the first time.  And, wanting to be a real hardcore CXer, I realized I needed to order up some embrocation when start time temperatures started dropping below 50 degrees.

After considering my options, I decided to order Winston's Brand, a regionally-popular make produced in Fort Wayne, IN.  My only hesitation was that one of the humans in the two humans and a dog company was my very first cyclocross "rival".  Or at least as I understand it.  She denied me the Cat 4 state championship that I'd foolishly thought I had in the bag back in 2006, and then beat me by approximately one position in about every race I did the next year.  So I had an unspoken rivalry with her, and it may have been mutual, but we never confessed it while sharing post-race libations like with most of my recent victims and nemeses, which is unfortunate, really.  Regardless, since I'd solidly been on the "victim" side of the relationship, I figured I shouldn't be too worried about having my order of "warm" embrocation secretly switched with "nuclear".  Sure enough, not only did I receive my order as stated, but I also got a free full-sized tub of "Cobble Cream", which made me an instant fan.

As you may know, 2010 would not be the year I made it to the bitter, snow-tastic end of the OVCX series, thanks to a pancreatic cyst.  After a couple of months off the bike, I found myself getting ready for one of my first rides back and contemplating my chamois cream selection.  It was just too cold for the Hoo Ha Ride Glide tingle, so I inspected the free Cobble Cream more closely.  I must have been spending at least of some of my non-riding time on the beginnings of my Liz Wolf indoctrination (although I hadn't yet given up store-bought lotion, facial cleanser, deodorant, or laundry detergent).  Because when I read the ingredients, my beloved Ride Glide was full of a long list of "FDA approved" ingredients, the Winston's Brand list was pretty short and centered around the magical ingredient that's beneficial in so many ways that it's like an edible version of  duct tape, coconut oil.  And thus began a new chamois cream love affair that lasted until Winston's Brand went of out business last summer.

The last tub actually lasted until a couple of weeks ago, but, knowing that it was coming, I've been considering my options for a while now.  I considered Mad Alchemy, the go to brand for "serious CXers", but from perusing their website, they seem to put soy bean oil in just about everything and seem sort of proud of it.  (The exception is their "Pure" chamois cream, but it just looks too greasy to me.)  In reality, using soybean-oil based cycling skin-care products is probably not as bad as my unfiltered tap water drinking and plastic-container microwaving habits, but I have a special hatred for soy among all of the gnar gnar neolithic foods that are best avoided.  Finally, it occurred to me to just Google "coconut oil chamois cream", and I came up with this:

I wouldn't call the ingredients list quite edible, but pretty clean for a manufactured skin-care product.  I only got it last week after returning from training camp, so I haven't tested it on any super-heavy rides yet.  However, it's been good on the couple of short rides where I did use it.  The look and feel is very similar to Winston's Brand Cobble Cream, although it's a little thicker and most tea tree oil scented than Winston's.  Overall, though, I think that the many folks in the region who have been missing their Cobble Cream would be quite happy with this as a substitute.

Late Edit:  I also just stumbled on this more in-depth analysis of the ingredient list:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

If You Like Pina Coladas and Getting Caught in the Rain

If you like climbing mountains, with lactic acid on your brain, 
If you catch flying squirrels at midnight, and hang out on the interstate 
Then you'd fit in real well, on the Speedway Wheelmen escape.

Our action-packed trip to Tennessee left me too tired type, even after a couple of extra days off of work, and even then I wasn't sure what I wanted to say.  It was an awesome trip.  It's hard to give it justice, especially when Adam's "epic" post and Sarah's artistic rendering already covered the high points.

I guess since this is supposed to be my blog about my training, I'll mention some that, even if it is not as entertaining as acidic hot tubs, epic thunderstorms, bubble butts, "fuck Satan", or flying squirrels.

While I wasn't up to the ability level of most of my teammates, I still got in over 10 hours of riding during the time we were in Tennessee.  The highlight was a four-hour ride on Friday was somewhere between 60 and 70 miles, depending on whose bike computer was consulted.  The first part was a long climb up and over the Foothills Parkway, which I basically rode alone.  I was able to hang with the group to base of the climb, but once we pointed upward, I settled into my own pace, which turned out to be pretty good one, for me at least.  At the end of the parkway, I regrouped with Val, Eric, Janelle, and Bob.  Much of the group had opted to keep climbing on the Tail of the Dragon to the North Carolina border, but that sounded like a good way for me to bite off more than I could chew if I continued on.

The rest of our grupetto decided we should take a longer but flatter way to Townsend.  This section was actually harder for me than going over the mountain, because their pace was such that I could hang with them for decent chunks of time, but the effort was well above threshold for me.  It was a rough couple of hours of burning, dropping off, regrouping, and burning some more.  In the end, I inadvertently set new all-time peak power records for 20, 40, and 60 minutes on that ride.  It kind of sucked, but it also made me feel like I am probably stronger on the road than I give myself credit for.  I just don't like hurting that bad when there's no tight turns and obstacles to distract me.

The next couple of days were easier for me.  The team rode the Cades Cove loop on Thursday night, but we set out too late in the evening for me to finish before dark, so I wanted to go back ride the whole thing on a day that the rest of the team was doing a harder ride.  So while Adam and Josh were doing their leg-breaking "Homestead Loop", and the rest of the team was doing a 30 mile climb up the Cherohala Skyway, I opted to do the Cades Cove loop alone.  This allowed me to go as noodly a pace as I wanted on my tired legs and to stop and take pictures as much as I wanted.

The final day was a nice, flat, conversational ride along the river with Sarah and Janelle, before we packed up and headed home in time to get stuck on I-75 over 4.5 hours.  Sweet.

Anyway, it was a great time it was totally worth missing the Ouachita Challenge for, even though I did get a little jealous of folks' Blowout Mountain pictures on Facebook.  I guess you can't have it all.  In the end, I gained some fitness, bonded with my teammates, and acquired a good arsenal of stories to tell.  Oh, I also drank my first Pina Colada during out post-ride Mexican feast on Friday, thus the title.  I was disappointed it didn't actually come in a coconut shell like in the picture on the menu, but overall it was pretty tasty.