Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012 Gravel Grovel: Winter is Coming

Back in the summer when I was dreading the BCSP DINO race, I joked that I was going to replace the "Die Biting the Throat" sticker on the top tube of my mountain bike with one that said "Winter is Coming".  I think those are appropriate words for House Rodkey, considering that no matter what season it is, it's always almost cyclocross season.  Except maybe for right now, when it's almost the end of cyclocross season, and so far winter has yet to really peek out at us.  Janelle and I were just discussing last weekend how we might not get to use our "cyclocross pajamas" (aka thermal skinsuits), but even with the surprisingly sunny season that we've had so far, December 'cross is it's own thing.  We've still got three weeks and four chances to break out the fuzzy stuff.

This weekend was a break in both the cyclocross calendar and the mild weather, and it provided evidence that winter, yes, for-real winter, is coming.  You know, that January and February stuff that we pretend isn't happening until it's upon us?  For better or worse, I decided to go ahead and face winter this weekend by participating the Sub-9 Gravel Grovel.

I guess I wanted to prove to myself that my HTFU switch still worked, since my lack of endurance racing (and endurance training) the last couple of years has left it dormant for quite some time.  I also know that the impending winter will also bring team recon rides for the Death March, and I don't want to be such a weak link as I was last year.  So I figured I should at least make it through the distance of a slightly longer and harder ride by myself and let the shock wear off before I add the pressure of trying to keep up with my male teammates.  Without a big spring trip to the Ouachita Challenge like I had for a few years, I think my winter training goals are focused more on proving myself a worthwhile Wheel(wo)man at the Death March and spring training camp than any individual spring races.

Anyway, the Gravel Grovel went pretty well.  It was a shock to break out my full winter gear for the first time this season, since it was upper 20's at the start and never really got past the low-to-mid 30's throughout the day.  Although I was dressed for the occasion, it was still a little rough dealing with those temperatures for that long when I hadn't experienced them in so many months.  Brain freeze on downhills and frozen water bottles aren't things to which I'm acclimated at the moment.

Making it through the race was about as hard as I expected it to be but no worse.  I did briefly consider looking into bailout options about halfway through, but I knew I had to kept going.  Overall, I did pretty well at just keeping the legs going and keeping my mind on happy thoughts beyond how many hours of riding I had left.  My time wasn't that great, but that's not surprising as steady-state pedaling efforts are not my forte, especially when I've completely not been training for them.  Overall, I was just happy that I got out and did it.  Maybe winter won't be so bad after all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Something a Little Different

This weekend I actually managed to put my plan of showing up at my next race ready to race and figure out *something* that I could do well.  Circumstances were in my favor on Saturday, as the penultimate race of the ICX series at Major Taylor Velodrome once again had a strong collegiate race showing. Since all levels of collegiate women started in our wave, I had plenty of ability-appropriate competition.

The start was still not that awesome as we dumped into a long section of flat, swoopy grass with three large peanut butter mud bog sections.  I spent most of the first pass through losing positions, but when we transitioned to other side of the bipolar course, I was able to plug the leak and start moving up again.  In stark contrast to the grass crit on one side, you crossed the pavement and climbed up the big grinding hill behind the stands, which wasn't used in either of the MTV races that I did last year.  My secret-weapon 11-32 cassette served me well, and I was able to knock out a tidy rhythm up the hill while my competition was forced into awkward out-of-the-saddle mashing. This was followed by some tricky off-camber maneuvering and a twisty decent back down the hill.  Obviously, that half of the course suited me better.

I quickly made the goal of picking off three girls before the race was over.  Strangely, most of the ground that I made up after the first lap happened in the field section where I forced myself to scoot to the edge of my saddle, stick my tongue out, and mash through the bumps and the mud.  By the last pass through the field, I had accomplished my goal by picking off three Marion girls was looking up to see if I could find one more victim.  To my astonishment, I could see my teammate Val not *that* far around the next turn.  It was the closest I've been to her that late in the race, and I put in one last hard surge in an attempt to close.  It wasn't successful, but later the results revealed that I had finished closer to both Val and Rebecca, my two nemeses from last year's ICX series, than I ever had before.  It felt awesome to go out and really turn myself inside out again and actually see some return for my efforts.

At Sunday's OVCX race in Lexington, I was determined to match my effort from the day before.  This was a little harder, because the remote location made for a sparse field, and I knew that the chances of my having  many girls within striking distance was slim.  I still did my best, and even though I found myself entering the second lap in a battle for not-last place, I still stayed on the gas and was determined to fight until the end.  My slump really started at BloomingCross, where I basically showed up to the race not feeling up to the task and very early on decided that the fight for not last wasn't worth it.  I admit that it is still pretty taxing on the soul to work so hard for so little, but I decided to at least put myself out there again on Sunday.  Unfortunately, after going blow for blow with Emily Falk the entire race, it came down to a sprint on the paved finish and she prevailed.  So I was left with another DFL, but at least I raced for it this time.

So I'm down to four races left this season, and I just wan'cross, I've decided to jump into the Gravel Grovel.  I haven't done 60+ miles even on pavement since training camp in April, so it will definitely be a challenge.  I guess I'm just in the mood for something a little masochistic, I guess.  No matter how it turns out it should at least be fun/interesting/painful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Want it Wednesday: Giro Sica Shoes

So after an uneventful weekend off from racing (totally forgot to stop by the blowup doll store and didn't get arrested otherwise), I figure it's a good chance to participate in the new and improved Want It Wednesday.  Now it's even easier to want stuff, and you can do it on any Wednesday that you like, just the see the details in the link above.

So what do I want? Well, a lot of things, but most of the list is philosophical right now, and we're talking about actual, physical, bike-related retail goods.  In that area, I'm actually pretty satisfied at the moment.  Before the Cincy 3 I shelled out some dough on the Columbia website for the sweet blue plaid coat and fur boots that I'm wearing below in hopes that they would see me through the 20 degree nastiness at the end of the season.  Really, they just made standing around in 40 degrees and rain tolerable-ish.  Lets face it: my body just doesn't generate sufficient heat, even when there are nifty space-age aluminum foil layers to try to keep it in.

Thinking back across the season so far, I can only think of one other purchasable object that would have made things better: toe spikes.  Before the past two weekend of which we won't speak further, I found myself running up the squishy side of a dam at Bradford Woods many times at the last ICX race, followed by a few trips up some uneven limestone stairs that were also accompanied by some squishy footing (and me in purple Tulle).

I'm pretty bad at run-ups, but I think most of my problem is that I have to take really tiny steps because I'm unsure of my footing.  Unfortunately, I've always worn Sidi shoes, but none of the models that come in my size (38) come with the option of toe spikes.  I guess running up muddy inclines isn't ladylike or something.  Regardless, the silver pair I bought last season will likely be my last Sidis, anyway, as my husband's mostly commuter and weekend warrior oriented shop could no longer move the number of high-end shoes required to meet Sidi's dealer demands.  He has already switched to Giro mountain bike shoes and seems pretty happy with them.  I'm not really due for a new pair for a while, but the inevitable purchase, plus the appeal of toe spikes, is kind of making me want to get them a bit sooner.

There's just one hard decision:  Black and teal to match my helmet?

Or white and pink to match my bike?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

People That Beat You When You're Crying Don't Count

The other day I mentioned to someone that, in a way, not winning makes better blogging than winning does, because you have to think of an interesting way to say that your race sucked.  I was pretty proud of my diversion efforts last week.  This week, no amount of wit could cover the whining, although the whining was so bad, it still managed to draw a few chuckles.

The distracted feeling of the past couple of weeks persisted through the Cincy 3 weekend, leading to my blowing off Friday completely and a pretty bad finish on Saturday.  Sunday morning, my body showed up, but my head didn't.  A minute or so into the race I made a stupid mistake that resulted in my laying on the ground, overwhelmed by how much I didn't want to be racing at that particular moment.  Then I cried. I got up, got my chain on, and forced myself to proceed forward on the course, because DNFing a 'cross race is stupid.  There was really no hiding my rock-bottom status, though, as I pedaled around the course and when everyone at the Shamrock tent asked me what was wrong as I came by, it was pretty embarrassing. Ultimately, I still passed three girls without really trying, but it was still a pretty bad day.

Anyway, after the race was over and I managed to get dressed and gain my composure only to lose it again every time someone tried to hug/console/encourage me.  (As my friend Emily used to say, DOOOON'T LOOK AT IT!)  Rebecca tried to make me feel better by saying that she was also beaten by some Cat 4 girls.  My reply was that I had been beaten by A LOT of Cat 4 girls the day before, but in my assessment of Sunday's race, "people that beat you when you're crying don't count."  As soon as it was out of my mouth, I knew how ridiculous it sounded, but it inspired much strategizing among those present.  If you extrapolate on my theory, the easiest way to win is just to start bawling on the starting line.  Tim even made it a point to tell me after his race that he forgot to cry.

I normally only choose the most flattering pictures for the blog, but this one seemed appropriate.  This is my "trying to outsprint mid-pack Cat 4's" face.

Oh well.  Not the proudest moment of my racing career.  So the question now is what to do next.  I'm obviously no more adept now than I was a year ago at pulling myself out of a slump, although I actually came up with some good ideas this morning that I would like to try.  It occurred to me that I should have focused on what I could have done well at Harbin, rather than the fact that I was ultimately doomed to fail.  I had a front-row start with a selective feature early in the race (multiple successive off-camber turns).  Instead of thinking about how I couldn't hang with the top ten riders' pace the whole race, I should have focused on going out as hard as I possibly could and just focused on staying in the top ten through the off-camber section, so that I could gain the advantage of avoiding the cluster-fudge that ensued.  Then if I had something left, I could kill it through the first sand pit and see where I stood.  I still might have faded at the end, but it would have put me in a position for a possibly decent finish.  I think I need start reminding myself to figure out *something* good that I can do each race and maybe build on that.

So I'm not ready to toss away the season, but I am questioning the wisdom of going to the USGP this weekend.  Even last year when I was on an upswing, the conditions of the USGP (hotel bed, restaurant food, super early start, no OVCX points) didn't exactly set me up for a good race.  It didn't really matter that much because I was just there to have a good time and celebrate my birthday in 'crossy style. A couple of not-great races just slid off my back.  However, right now I want to do what I can to really set myself up to have a good race next time I line up on the starting grid, so I'm not sure if starting another "distracted" race is a good idea.  I sort of feel like my head, legs, and, frankly, liver might like to take the weekend off, even if it is the most fun weekend of the year.

Perhaps I'll just sleep in on Sunday morning, go for a leisurely ride, then take a blow-up doll down to Bryan Park and give hand-ups to the folks on the walking trail.  I'm sure it will be just as good and that I won't get arrested for at least an hour or so.  That could make a way more interesting blog post than some moderate level of success in a race would, right?