Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Week #34: Relay Cross

This weekend I got my 2013 cyclocross season started a little earlier than usual while most of the Indiana racers were capping off their mountain bike season at the DINO series finale. This year marks the first summer since I've owned a mountain bike that I didn't do a single DINO race. It was pretty liberating, really.

I'd been wanting to do Relay Cross in Chicago the past couple of years, but was never really able to get friends on board. This year I really wanted to make it a priority, and since I knew a lot more Chicago people after the Gravel Metric, I figured I could find partner(s) up there if no Indiana friends wanted to come along. As it turned out, Isabel, with whom I rode back after getting lost on the grass part of GM, asked me if I wanted to be her partner back in June and also said that I could do the coed race with her brother David. So my plans were set early on, and then it was just a matter of waiting for late August to arrive. And it did, more quickly than I could have imagined.

I was nervous, because I hadn't ridden tubulars on grass or put out an effort even remotely resembling 'cross intensity since last December. In fact, I only removed the gravel accouterments from my bike the day before the race.

It was a very hot and dusty day, even more so than normal early-season 'cross, and the women's race was unbelievably rough on me. I took the first lap, didn't make too impressive of a Le Mans start, and spent most of the lap trying to move up through traffic. I still managed to feel like I might throw up, or worse, poo my pants after the set of barriers near the end of the lap. And so it went: ride super hard, gasp in the pit, ride myself into oblivion trying to pick girls off on my next lap. There was a very conscious battle between the part of me that was screaming "just slow down" and the part of me that was screaming "you're faster than these girls; you have to pass them". In the end, my competitive instincts won out, and I finished the first race having ridden myself into cold chills in August and looking "a little blue". I have no idea how I did, really, but at least I reminded myself, in the harshest way possible, what 'cross feels like.

After the women's race, I had a few hours to eat and try to rest while I reflected on how badly the first race hurt and come to terms with the fact that I had to do it again. I was feeling a lot of pressure because my partner had been on the winning coed team the last couple of years, and I didn't want to let him down. I felt so icky getting redressed in the heat that I wondered if I would end the second race with a trip to the hospital, but I was determined to give it a shot at least.

Once it started and David come around in the top five or six after working his way through from the back of the pack, I realized that he really was fast enough to get us on the podium if I could just not screw anything up. I did sorta okay at that for most of a lap. I couldn't hang with the women from the other top-five teams, but I only had one pass me and she really wasn't getting much of a gap after coming around. Then we got to the barriers and this happened:

I think I hit my leg with my bike and started to lose my balance or something, but I'm not sure. Regardless, I dropped my bike on the front end hard, and knocked my right brake hood way out of whack. I also lost my chain and it took a really long time to get back on. Bye bye, podium. The rest of the race was just about trying to do my best and still ride hard with my messed up hood and having had my rhythm messed up. I think I did pretty well, except for that my chain bounced off going into the transition on two of the three remaining laps. Once I noticed before it was my turn again and once I didn't, which forced me to fixed my chain quickly before going out for my last lap. WORST ARRANGED COED PARTNER EVER! Luckily David was very nice about it and even fixed my messed up hood after the race.

Despite the heat, the pain, and the mechanicals, it great to back into 'cross season again. I'd heard some disparaging "hipster grass crit" rumors about Chicago cyclocross prior to experiencing it for myself, but I thought it was a great race and a great scene. The coed race was the last one of the day, and thus the most spectated. It was awesome because I feel like I had nearly as many people yelling my name around the course at that race as I would at an OVCX race, and plenty of strangers heckling me and offering me beer. So even though I still think OVCX is the best series in the county (whatever, coasts), Chicago 'cross gets a thumbs up from me!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Week #33: Transition

I didn't take a single bike-related picture this week.
You're going to have settle for Clemmie Badcat stealing a Brussels sprout.
Last Monday, I returned from Pennsylvania, hugged my kitties, slept, and went right in to work the next morning. I made it through the rest of the week fine, if a little tired, and hit all of my planned workouts. My weekend wasn't too exciting, but I got to do a short mountain bike ride with Dustin and Corinna, at least.

For the first time in weeks, I seem to have managed the transition back into real life pretty gracefully. Settling back into the business of making money and conditioning myself to be good at riding bikes so that I'm able to do awesome stuff later on is hard, especially when I'm tired. The last few months have been such a whirlwind for me that I sometimes forget how to settle into regular daily life. Then I remember that my life used to be like that pretty much all of the time, and at least now the boring home-times are an investment in something better to come. 

Aside from real-life transition business, watching Frank prep his new tubies reminded me of how close 'cross season really is and caused me to question my own preparedness. Physically, I'm not in spectacular shape due all of my recent travel and requisite recovery afterwards. With four weeks to go, I think I've settled into a good place, but I wonder how much fitness I can build in four weeks. Regardless, I am still pretty strong and lean, if lacking in bike-specific power, so I'm still better off than I was this time last year. 

I've also been inspecting my equipment and sort of praying that it will all last one more season. The bike itself is starting to show the fact that it has already been through two very full CX seasons and two Death Marches, not to mention all of the additional training and gravel riding that I did on it this year. At least it got and overhaul, new shifter, and new chain before the Death March, so hopefully the wear-and-tear is mostly cosmetic. I'm also just sort of crossing my fingers that all of my wheels and tires are fine, and that nothing will need to be reglued. The title of this blog comes from play on how "Living on a Prayer" was the theme song for my 2007 'cross season, and I'm definitely feeling like this might be the case again. 

Only now am I beginning to realize how different this year will be. I grew pretty accustomed to leaving my dirty bike in the garage after races to have it washed, inspected, and any necessary parts replaced before the following weekend. All I had to do was write checks and sometimes wash and lube it myself between Saturday and Sunday races. Now all of the washing and lubing is up to me, and I'm worried that I'll have no idea when things need to be replaced until they are really bad. Then I will have to scramble to get it done at a bike shop before the next weekend. I also have to drive myself to and from races and not hit the schapps flask too hard during the elite men's race, what with the having to drive myself home.

Not that any of this is an expression of regret. It is simply an acknowledgement of another way in which I'll have to learn to take care of myself that I've never had to do before, and in the end, will be better off for it. It might slightly lessen my chances of cyclocross glory this season, but I think it's well-established at this point that it's not the most important thing in my life anymore. I've traded physical support for emotional support (and superior crafting ability and a bunch of other awesome stuff that I won't list to avoid cat puking noises amongst my dear readers). I try not to get too ahead of myself fantasizing about maybe having both someday, which in itself could very well mean my departure from the awesome 'cross scene of the Ohio Valley to somewhere less 'cross-worthy. Everything in life has a price. For now, I just need to make the most of what I have, enjoy it, and not live my life expecting things to break.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Week #32: Show Me Your Gnar

After a rough couple of weeks of trying to get my emotional exhaustion and anxiety under control, I finally pulled it together in time to make my long-awaited first trip to Pennsylvania to visit Frank in his home territory. I was aware of the State College area's mountain biking reputation long before he came into my life, and very early on he told me about all of the grindy gravel climbing he'd been up to. Of course, I had to defend the Southern Indiana's cycling honor and prove it to be much different than the "Midwestern" box that he put it into. I got to do this over the 4th of July weekend, and he seemed reasonably impressed, so it was now time for me to see if State College riding lived up to the legend.

Um, it did. With my general level of exhaustion and loss of fitness in recent weeks, I expected that he would take it easy on me. A 20 mile gravel ride in Rothrock State Forest at which "you shouldn't hate me too much by the end" seemed reasonable. I did somehow interpret "you shouldn't hate me too much by the end" as easy, but it wasn't. At the beginning I locked my heavy legs into the slow rhythm of climbing the gentle but consistent 6-ish mile ascent that started almost immediately out of the parking lot. It wasn't fun, but it was okay. Then we were rewarded with a nice descent, followed by a long stretch of downhill-to-flat riding where I kept myself near threshold just because it was fun to go that fast.

Then I was given the choice to go back the way we came or do a loop where the climb back the other way was "a little steeper". I didn't feel awesome, but I figured not completing the loop was too wussy, so I opted for the loop. It was more than a little steeper. It was five miles of constant steep-ish chunky gravel that hit 17% in a few places. (Strava file here.) In the beginning I tried to tell myself that it was still easier than our Tennessee training camp, but instead of switchbacks, it was straight and relentless. Every hump I muscled over just revealed a new long, straight stretch of up. And then there was that gravel thing. I eventually gave up any hope of looking tough and stopped to rest three times on the way up. I didn't cry or complain, but I did stop, which is embarrassing in itself. We did eventually make it to the top, enjoyed the view, and still seemed to like each other when we got there.

The next day I got to see more of Rothrock via singletrack. Since I was already trashed from the day before, I mostly opted to "see" the famous rock gardens, but was hoping for easy-ish actual riding. The thing is, for this now admittedly Midwestern mountain biker, it was kind of all rock gardens. Some were more rideable than others, but I was pretty much bouncing the whole time and really wishing I had a full-suspension bike. Someone has a lot to learn and a lot fitness to gain back. The ride was pretty short with my struggling and whatnot, but it was still nice to have gotten some PA gnar experience. I hope to be back and better in the future.

Aside from introducing me to his world, he got a little closer to mine. He's all excited about doing to some OVCX races when he comes to visit me in the fall; so much so that he did, in fact, buy a tubular wheelset. So I guess he is officially dateable now, for those that were worried about that. Whoosh.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Week #31: Recovery

After digging into the roots of my emotional overtraining in last week's post, I've pretty much spent the week since doing what I can to recover. It hasn't been easy, as taking complete rest from life isn't really a viable option and sometimes the decision about what's best for me in a given situation isn't always clear.

One of my biggest problems this week has been the frustration of a setback more than the actual stress itself. Expanding on my overtrained athlete metaphor, I am dealing with the familiar feeling of sustaining an injury just when I've reached the best shape of my life. It's unnerving to go from being the most emotionally resilient that I've ever been to "Going to the grocery store is scary!" fully knowing how irrational that is but still unable to tamp down the feeling of fear rising in my gut.

However, the plus side to this is that I know what healthy and happy feel like, and that my current state isn't just my weak or flawed personality like I would have thought a couple of years ago. Just like an IT band will tear after pounding out too many miles, after overcoming too many scary, hard, or exhausting things, the brain will start to go a bit haywire, too. I've definitely done a lot of overcoming in the past few months, and my brain is sort of stuck in fight or flight mode at the moment.

Logically, I know this, but it doesn't make it any more fun. All I can do is tell myself that it won't last forever and do what I can to help it heal as quickly as possible. I feel like I did a pretty good job of it in the past week, trying to minimize stress and making smart choices about the level of physical activity that would help me without adding further stress. I also forced myself to have a few conversations that I didn't want to have, but that ultimately sped the healing process. (The mental equivalent of a really painful deep tissue massage?)

So I've made it to Monday morning feeling pretty okay and with a fairly manageable "to do" list for the week. Additionally, I'm only three workdays and a nine-hour drive away from seeing my sweetie. And we all know that oxytocin is the mental equivalent of EPO, so that should put me in pretty good shape.