Monday, November 25, 2013

Week #47: The Winds of Winter

When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.

This weekend was a shock to the system. I was definitely not ready for winter bibs and neoprene booties, but they were suddenly required whether I liked it or not. I elected not to race the OVCX race at Major Taylor this weekend, because it in the wake of the killer vet bill, I couldn't bring myself to pay $35 for something that I wasn't completely stoked on. Of course, I'm going to be paying $96 for the Bilenky Junkyard Cross/SSCXWC combo sometime this week, and that is pretty painful to think about, too. However, that will be a once-in-lifetime experience, a chance for a road trip with Sarah, and another weekend adventure with two of my favorite people, so it's worth it. 

Also, once I saw how cold it would be over the weekend, I was glad I decided not to race.

The first rule of Gravel Club is don't lose the map. The second rule is to make
notes on the map so you know what the heck you are doing later.
Besides the cost of 'cross entry fees, I'm just more in the mood to ride gravel lately, anyway, and you can't really do that if you don't want to make Sunday's race a miserable experience. Since they announced the official course for the Gravel Grovel last week, I decided to check out some of the new singletrack parts to get an idea of what I was getting into. I worked out a 40-ish mile route that hit all of the singletrack, including Combs, but cut out any excess road that I already new from Death March training. 

It all went pretty well at first. I made it over Combs and up the easier side of "The Son of the Bitch" going towards Story. At the bottom of the hill I flipped it around and headed up the Nebo Ridge trail. I hadn't been on it in three years, and ticking up the first long climb I was thinking that I'd really rather be doing that than grinding up the nasty gravel hill it replaced, even with the roots and rocks. What I'd forgotten is that once the trail levels off after the big climb, you are confronted with a series of increasingly more difficult short, steep "scramble hills" where you have to work up some speed, lean forward, and ride really hard for 30-ish seconds to the top. They aren't *that* bad, but repeated 30-second intervals in the middle of an endurance ride does get a little tiring. I found the Nebo Ridge trail section to be much slower than I had expected. I'm really hoping that knowing what I'm getting into this next time will help it not feel so slow during the race.

I had to skip the two parts of HNF trail that I'd planned to scout, because as I cut across 1000 N to avoid "The Bitch" and fast forward to some new stuff, the wind kicked up and the temperature started to drop. When I arrived at the hilly stretch of road where I was supposed to enter Trail 21, I realized I didn't know exactly where it was supposed to be, the wind was about to rip the map out of my hands, and I didn't feel like riding up and down the rolling road to find it. So I just headed for the car, which was still a good 10-15 miles away. 

The first day of winter gear is always a shock, but this one turned out to be real baptism by fire (ice, really), as the wind howled, and the temperature dropped to 26 degrees by the time I was done. That was definitely a shocker since I haven't ridden in less than upper 40's in months. At least now I'm adapted, and whatever the Gravel Grovel throws at me this weekend won't seem *as* bad.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Honesty Is The Best Policy

When I was writing my post earlier in the week, I waffled about whether to include the paragraph about Mushu’s illness, the resulting vet bill, or my anxiety related to it. It was an unhappy aside to an otherwise positive post. Did I really want people to know the exact amount of unexpected expense it took to put me in the financial danger zone or the cray cray thoughts that provoked? I decided to keep it, since it was more of a “running down of the things” post than one where I lay out a theme and build to sweeping conclusion where we all learn something at the end like an episode of South Park. If I were just naming things for the week, it was an important thing.

This year I have consistently been sharing all of the relevant details of my development as much as I have been able to within the bounds of politeness and not causing trouble for people who aren’t me. I’ve dropped the fa├žade that my wavering level of motivation in regard to cycling was my biggest problem and revealed the depression, social isolation, divorce drama, anxiety, and disordered eating behind it. Yes, when I list it all out like that I sound like a train wreck, and why I would I want to people to know all that? I feel like I should explain a little bit more about the reasons behind my brutal honestly.

It occurs to me that the revelation of my dirty little secrets could be perceived as either a need to create drama, draw attention, or try to get people to feel sorry for me. I can’t say that I am completely and utterly innocent on those charges, but it is certainly not my intention. I guess my primary reasons are to relieve myself of some burdens in a way that’s not totally private, but at least not shoved in the faces of those seeing my updates on Facebook. You have to willingly click through the link to read this. 

I also want to give better insight as to why I do the things I do, which I suppose is asking for empathy, if not actual sympathy. In that vein, I share the less-pretty sides of myself knowing that many of those reading can empathize more than they would like, and are less willing to share their burdens, so I hope that my sharing my struggles and my progress in overcoming them will help others to overcome theirs, as well.

Finally, if nothing else, I’m doing a service to the train-wreck-blog-loving haters by giving them plenty of reasons to put on their judgy faces and feel superior. Yeah, those are a thing; I know because I was married to one of them.

That being said, I wanted to share some thoughts to consider when reading the writings of myself or any other “train wreck” blogger who dares drop his or her (it’s usually a her) guard and reveal their shortcomings. Of course, this is just my theory, but I’d like to share it. Sorry, haters.

It basically goes like this: some people, for a wide for variety of sometimes unexplainable reasons reach adulthood with a missing piece in them, a hole if you will, while others get everything they need to be okay in a variety of life circumstances. The reasons might not easily apparent like child abuse or neglect, and the person might be successful in some areas their life, so it’s hard to easily say what’s wrong with them. Therefore, it is easy to push it aside as “first world problems”. However, I feel like the “hole” is the basic cause of all the things in the range of depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, and the like. It’s what makes seemingly “okay” people act and feel not okay.

So walking around on the street every day you will encounter a variety of people with different sizes and shapes of holes, and those with holes in various stages of healing, because luckily they can be healed. When people get judgy it is usually because they were lucky enough to grow up without a hole and can’t understand the behavior of those with one, or worse, we encounter a person whose hole doesn’t look like our own. Conversely, in the past year I’ve really learned to spot people with a hole like mine and it makes me want to hug them. I also have some lovely “complete” people in my life that provide inspiration and stability in my path to healing. (If you’re reading this and wondering which you are, I’ll never tell. ;) And really, “complete” people aren’t perfect or lacking in problems, they just have better coping skills.

Back in the spring/early summer, a good friend told me that in my situation at the time “a new guy would be like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound”. It was actually very wise advice, although it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. However, I was more accurately suffering not from a gunshot wound, but a dynamite blast that had (painfully) cleared out the rubble that was keeping my hole from filling in which the correct missing pieces. I’ve since learned that those pieces aren’t anything you can just shove in there; the healing has to come from just staring into the empty space and seeing that you can survive it, no matter how painful it is. By accepting the hole, it actually becomes smaller. Being aware of all this, I did soon after find a new guy who isn’t in any way a cover-up or filler, but the real person who holds my hand  while I stare into the space and doesn’t think less of me for having it in the first place (often the hand-holding is more figurative than literal, as the void appears less when he's physically present).

So all of those things I’ve been told about being in control of my own feelings and attitudes, nonattachment, and all of those good things that make everyday bummers feel less tragic are actually accurate, but they are skills that are slowly learned over time rather just advice to be given and heeded. So telling a depressed person that they are in charge of their own emotions and expecting them to just flip to happy is like verbally explaining to someone how to bunny hop and then telling them go jump that three foot log. First you have logically know something, then internalize the movement patterns (physical or mental), perform the movement in a low risk environment, then slowly build the confidence to try it in more difficult circumstances.

All of this is to convey a couple of points. One is that I don’t really have the long list of problems that I might appear to; I have one big one that I am slowly improving every day. It’s just a long and hard process. The second point is that there are many others that you will encounter with the same general problem who are unaware or at least unwilling to share. Be kind to them.

I suppose that’s a lot of armchair psychology for a supposed cycling blog, but I feel cycling is a magnet for those “holey” folks, especially women. It manifests in many ways, sometimes leading to great success within the sport and sometimes preventing it. I think it would be really interesting for a sport psychologist to develop a scale for “hole” measurement and see where top athletes rank. My theory is that a hole can drive to a lot of success in the short term, because of its intensity, but perhaps “complete” people fair better over time.

Finally, I found it really interesting this morning when I saw this post from one of my favorite bloggers after I’d already been planning to write this for a couple of days. I think I’ve always liked reading her blog because I felt some sort of kinship, which I would now call a matching hole, although she deals with hers differently than I do, and probably has a lot more natural talent. Regardless, I was really glad to see her talk so openly of her struggles, and I hope she finds what she needs to get better.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Week# 46: Milestones

With the weeks ticking off until #52 (then what?), this blog has been all about milestones this year. Last week this was even more true, with my 33rd birthday and the barely 7-month-old Lime-a Bean topping 10,000 miles. I guess that's what happens when you go to Tennessee, 2X to Chicago, 4X to Pennsylvania, and a whole lot of mountain bike trails and trips to Indy in between. I better stay on that scheduled maintenance, because he and I are stuck together for at least five more years and who knows how many more trips.

As for my own aging up, I feel like 33 is a very awkward age. It's an odd number and scarily close to "mid-thirties". Since Frank couldn't be with me on my actual birthday, I decided to be proactive instead of pouty, and threw a Tuesday-night birthday party in my own honor. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and it made for one of the better birthdays of my adult life.

The only bad part of my birthday was Mushu getting a kidney infection that resulted in a $593 vet bill. I'm glad to report that she has recovered now and seems to be doing fine, but it was a real blow in my ongoing battle with anxiety, as my "in case something bad happens fund" got wiped out a lot sooner than I actually expected anything bad to happen. I'm doing my best to handle it with grace and remind myself of all the good luck I've experienced this year along with the bad. It's just another gnarly life lesson that I've realized that I have to sit through instead of run away from.

#scenicvistaselfies are our thing now.
The mountains are looking a lot more drab that they did four weeks ago.
In happier news, the weekend saw another trip to Pennsylvania, which is what pushed the Lime-a Bean over the 10,000 mile mark. Nothing super exciting happened, but Frank and I rode a new-to-me gravel road that was a lot rollier than what we've ridden between. It was basically like riding Tower Ridge Rd. in the HNF out for 15 miles, then turning around and coming back. We're still a long way off from Gravel Grovel distance, but I know that we have it in us.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Week #45: Return to HNF

During last week's post, I left out an important part of the weekend, because it didn't really fit with the theme. Except for the racing part not going so well, it was actually quite a good weekend. It was made even better when we got back to my house on Sunday night and Frank surprised me with the early birthday present of new clincher wheels for my cross bike that he had built himself. Of course, the pink hubs were nice, but the really thoughtful part was that rims were the same width as my Major Tom tubular wheelsets, so I no longer have to adjust my brakes when I swap between tubulars and clinchers.

With the combo of traveling a lot and the not-so-awesome 'cross season, I have needed to swap a lot lately. Since I was able to survive the Sub-9 Gravel Grovel on practically no training last year, I decided early on that I would do it again unless I was in contention for a OVCX series podium in late November. Obviously that is not happening, and I'm just sort of missing gravel, so I'm putting a little more effort into preparation this year. It probably won't make tons of difference speed-wise, but maybe it will make the Gravel Grovel a little more pleasant and let me get a head start on my Death March prep.

So this weekend I skipped the Derby City Cup and hit the Hoosier National Forest gravel for the first time since last spring's Death March. I even listened to some Taylor Swift on the way out for old time's sake, but the break-up songs didn't make me sad anymore and I was able to turn some witty new phrases like, "On a Monday, over pate', I watched it begin again." And really, when is ever not a good night to dress up like hipsters and make fun of our exes? But I digress.

The ride was good, and I got 30-something miles in, and I could have done 45 or so without feeling trashed. I'm just a little off my Saturday gravel training game, and forgot that I needed to eat breakfast before the 9 a.m. farmer's market. As it was, I didn't start riding until 2:00, and had to turn in early before running out of light. 

Now it's just a matter of getting back in my groove and building on it, which includes upping the tolerable distance that I can ride in Pennsylvania next weekend. The only drawbacks to this year's choice in Death March partner are: a) Sometimes I have to drive 9 hours to ride with him, and that sort of kills my motivation by the time I get there. b) I underestimated how much easier it was to train with a bike-only friend, because then I was totally stoked on riding bikes them vs. training someone with whom I enjoy riding bikes but also enjoy many other activities and thus the impetus specifically to ride bikes isn't as strong. Oh well, I'm continually making progress on this whole being in a long distance relationship and still maintaining training thing, so I think things are looking good for me, my pretty new wheels, and my awesome new partner come spring. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Week #44: The Ghost of 'Crossmas Past

It's not just all physical
I'm the type who won't get oh so critical
So let's make things physical
I won't treat you like you're oh so typical
I won't treat you like you're oh so typical

After my unfortunate experience at the Cincy 3 Cyclocross Festival last year, I was a little nervous about how the weekend would go this year. Everything has changed since then, except the racing part. I was the exact amount of slow and discouraged as I was this time last year. The weekend had been long planned out, and I still wanted to be there for the experience; the racing part was just sort of my price of admission.

So my goal going into the weekend was simple: don't get upset about doing badly. Unfortunately, the most efficient path that I've found to this end is to basically just turn my brain off before the race starts, pedal, and force myself to care as little as possible. This is still kind of difficult starting smack in the middle of a 75-woman field, because just moving forward on the course is difficult and requires a lot of painful accelerations. The girls taking turns slowly and fumbling in the mud aren't even competition to be beaten but merely obstacles between myself and the finishing line. And in this lay my failure to achieve my seemingly simple goal.

Despite my goal to not end my races upset about doing badly, both days I ended up getting very bitchy at good friends who are two of the nicest guys I know because of ill-placed heckles. The problem was that I was already in the middle of bunched-up first-lap pain and frustration where all I wanted was some some clear space to ride my bike. Like, "I seriously don't care if this person drops me or I drop them; I just don't want them one bike length in front of me anymore." So as I was trying so hard to just get through it and not care, it was a very bad time to be told that I was going backwards or looked like I had given up. I didn't quite conjure up the tears of last year's Harbin Park (which would have lead my placing better at least), but I certainly didn't react in a dignified manner.  

Only later did I realized why this was so upsetting for me. Basically, I didn't like being made to feel guilty for not caring. Of course, this wasn't exactly the intention of those heckling me, but thanks to old feelings and habits that's how I interpreted it. The ability to suffer willingly is the most highly praised characteristic in the cycling world, so unabashed unwillingness to suffer must be the greatest sin in cycling, right? So by pointing out that I was unwilling to suffer, they were basically saying that I was a horrible human being, right? 

I've been spending the last few months trying to detoxify myself old myths and self-criticisms by reminding myself that the cycling world is not the real world, so the irony is that I was so upset about the implication that I was a horrible person in cycling terms that it caused me to act like a horrible person in real-world terms. That is definitely not what I wanted to happen, but old habits are hard to break. I just lived a little too long in a very constricted world where the holy values of cycling world were the be-all and end-all of existence, and my inability and unwillingness to live up to those standards made me constantly unhappy. 

Now I'm spending my time surrounding myself with people who enjoy cycling, but who also love me based on real-world standards rather than those of cycling world, and I'm much happier except when those old ghosts come back to haunt me. I just have to keep reminding myself that they're dead, and hopefully they will eventually fade away.

At least there was fun after the pain was over. Here we are adding a little bit
more light for the pro women at the Kings CX night race.