Monday, December 30, 2013

Week #52: What Have We Learned?

So we have finally reached Week #52 of this experiment, as well as the point of December in which my old lady strength is kicking in enough to get me through New Year's Eve. The Christmasiness has reached it's end, and I finally got to come home to my kitties on Saturday. I even found the strength to get up and kick off my 2014 Death March training on Sunday, despite travel fatigue and blown hamstrings from rolling Frank's niece and nephew around his parents' basement in a very large bucket on Friday night. Apparently I found some effective way to interact with children, which is something that doesn't come very naturally to me.

My first ride was rough due to the conditions mentioned above, and the fact that the weather went from 42 and sunny to very cold, windy, and overcast by the end of the ride. I was very slow, but I was glad that I was able to put in nearly 50 miles in the first go, a task that took several weeks to work up to last year. I also already have the navigation part on lock already, unless some new checkpoints are added. I sort of hope that there are, as I need the strategy part of the race on my side. If nothing changes strategy-wise, the competition will inevitably smarter, which means that I will have to be faster. I'm doing my best to account for that with training early and often, but I still welcome any changes that might swing the odds in my favor.

My not-flat gravel ride in Oklahoma last week
I'm already facing my first challenge of the new season as Frank is being called back to State College by work two days earlier than planned, which will leave me training solo next weekend as well as robbing me of two precious days with him when I wasn't going to get very many this month to begin with. I'm trying my best not to be too pouty about this, but it is a huge bummer. During my mental complaining about this during Sunday's solo ride, I came to the conclusion that The Hopshop is the pink-haired hootchie of 2014.

For some reason it seems like I should tell this story now as it is funny many months and intervening events removed. At the time I wasn't in full brutal honesty stage yet and there was a definite element of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". The deal is that last year my partner fell in love with a pink-haired hootchie in Chicago that pretty much rendered him useless as training partner during the month of February. Now don't get up in arms about this statement; this was just the title that was bestowed on her, and I can't actually comment on anything positive or negative regarding her personality or any other attributes only that she inadvertently caused me disappointment and inconvenience and thus I was happy to propagate the title. Mature, I know.

I kept this out of my blogging except for a couple of vague references to being mad about having to ride alone, but since I knew I was being somewhat unreasonable in my expectations, I kept the public bitching to a minimum. I was just disappointed that I was left to deal with things on my own during what we all now know was a much more rough period of my life than I'd admit at the time and didn't like being deprived of one of the few things that I had to look forward to during those months. However, it turned out to be a very formative experience for me because it was the first significant time in my life when I dealt with disappointment in a constructive rather than a destructive manner. It forced me to be creative in keeping up my motivation and to seek out help from sources that I wouldn't have otherwise, which lead to several great friendships and a greater sense of self-sufficiency. Also, I can't really be mad looking back now, because I now know have first-hand experience with what long-distance love can do to a person, so I'm much more sympathetic. I don't expect that I could have received nominations for any super awesome dependable friend awards in the last six months, either.

So what does this random snippet of unblogged material from 2013 have to do with year-end review? Everything, really. It contains all of the elements related to my 2013 resolutions, as well as the things that I would like to improve in 2014. To review, my 2013 resolutions were the following:

1) To increase both the quantity and quality of my friendships.

 2) To cultivate interests outside of cycling so that I have other things to talk about with all of these awesome new friends.

This experience was the real turning point at which I started to make headway on these resolutions, and I probably wouldn't have made the successful trajectory that I did this year without being forced out of my comfort zone. I feel like I was very successful in achieving the first goal, although it is an ongoing process, and this year I want to continue to improve in this area. As I mention above, I have let one very special new social connection take precedence over the others the last few months, and I want to work harder to give more time and energy to my other relationships without giving any less to my relationship with Frank. This won't necessarily be easy, finding more to give, but I think that's part of the growing path that I am on, and I will find a way.

As for the second resolution, I'm not sure that I achieved it in letter, but I think I achieved it in spirit. Part of this was really just about doing things with other people besides cycling. I got a lot better at this. I didn't really take up any huge new hobbies or anything, but I made my prior interests more social. For example, cooking is a lot more exciting when it's for other people, rather than just fueling yourself. I still don't really have any close non-bike friends, which I feel would be an asset, but I think I've been pretty successful overall.

Finally, my new goals for 2014 are woven throughout my anecdote, although they've really only become clear to me lately. Those are to be less self-absorbed and also to love/care for people on their own level.

I'm hoping the first will help with generating more time and energy for friends if I'm not so wrapped up in my own stuff. Although I consider myself to be pretty empathetic in general, I do have a way of just forgetting to think about other people. It's not even being purposely selfish or asshole-like, although I'm not innocent of those either, but that I just don't know how to behave correctly towards people that I care about because I've been disconnected from normal functioning society for too long. The whole realization that I should have sent out Christmas cards is an example of this. I hate fake pleasantries, and I'm not used to having people that care about me and that I care about them, so the fact that I should engage in genuine expressions of my appreciation and affection slipped my mind. So basically, I want people to actually benefit from having a relationship with me rather just having them like me. There really is a difference.

As for love/care for people on their own level, this is more complicated. What I mean by this is the emotional bargaining that goes on between people. You like someone and want them to like you back, so you give them something physically, emotionally, or socially. However, what you have to offer and what they truly want are not necessarily the same thing, so is the relationship worthwhile? Can you like someone based on the fact that they like you, even if it's not in the way you want?

This mostly has to do with my relationship with my mother, as we have come to an impasse where I've realized that we will never really be able to give the other one what they want. She is very religious, and her religion simply does not compute with me. We really, truly cannot see things from each other's point of view. She is my mother and I love her for loving me and doing so many things for me, but I will never really have her approval as long as I stay true to myself. So resolving this is the biggest example of this phenomenon is my life, but it's true with everyone on some micro level.

So there is my plan for the upcoming year. I have one more tough semester away from Frank that will include a lot more three-weeks breaks than the mostly two week breaks we had through the fall, but it's what has to happen so that we can be together full-time in a few months. Hopefully, I can once again turn my free time into something constructive, and handle my disappointment in a positive manner.

Here's to 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Week #51: "Home" for the Holidays

The past week was pretty uneventful, in that it was full of events, but none that I feel like talking about nor particularly wanted to attend, and thus didn't have a lot of time for things I did want to do. Oh well, as I have covered in the last two weeks' posts, it just put me closer to the other side of this month's section of metaphorical chunky gravel. I now have zero work lunch party things, one less 12-hour drive, and one less family holiday celebration left. Coming up I have a Christmas Eve dinner with my mom's side of the family, a 12-hour drive to Frank's parents', their post-Christmas family Christmas, and a four-hour return trip to my kitties on Saturday. If all goes well, I will wake up Sunday morning with nothing to do but drive myself out to the HNF and ride some literal gravel.

"The world's largest McDonald's" was out of commission as I passed through on my journey back to my parents' house.
The other big thing for me this week is something that is out of my control. Frank began his job application process for the 2014-2015 academic year in earnest. The outcome of this will determine where I will be living when August comes, as my lease on my current house expires then and it is our goal to make the 9-hour drives a thing of the past at that time. Being that his marketable skills are much more specialized than mine, I plan to go where he goes. This is both an exciting and scary prospect, not knowing where I will live in eight months. IU is on the list of possibilities, so with some luck the changes to my life might just be limited to clearing out some closet space and suddenly having a lot more Jay Ryan posters hung on the walls of my house.

When discussing his Illinois tattoo soon after we met, I joked that I have no state to which I feel enough allegiance to get a tattoo of it. This is true, as I never meant for the Hoosier thing to last as long as it did, and I am definitely no longer an Okie. This is the first year where the trip "home" has not even served as training camp/a welcome vacation from real life. I've already traveled too much this year, and any driving that doesn't take me to my man or my kitties doesn't excite me much.

Although I get anxious at the prospect of having to find a new job and a new living space, and there are many things about Indiana that I would miss if I were to leave, the idea of making a new home somewhere else sounds pretty alright to me, even if the cyclocross scene is vastly inferior to OVCX. This will be the biggest thing in 2014 for me, and most of my other plans will revolve around the outcome of this job search. I suppose the one constant will be that regardless of what happens after the spring semester is over, I will still have a definite 10-week lead-up to the Death March once the holidays are concluded. So in that one way, this year won't be so different from the last.

So I just have to get through one more of week of the holiday season in which I will visit several iterations of "home". Then it will be Week #1 again, and hopefully the weeks of 2014 will finally lead me to the home in which I am supposed to be.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Week #50: Chunky

After outlining some of the challenges that I would be facing in the month of December in last week’s post, I have since made good on my intent to keep making forward progress in spite of having many upcoming events causing me anxiety. Moreover, there are six fewer days left in December than there were at the time of my last post, and for that I am very grateful. I’m also two work-related lunch things down, have a driver’s license that now says “Lindsay Hall” on it (not December-specific, but something I’m glad to be done with), and I did, in fact, complete my first trainer workout in at least three years.

Behold, my new antic "training studio". My second floor is really cold and not used for much else.

Regarding the latter, my choices were really ride trainer or feel crappy about not riding, so I settled on two sets of Tabata intervals to make me feel like I’d accomplished something but still only have to be on the trainer for less than 40 minutes. I’m sure this isn't at all something that should be in the ideal training plan that I should be undertaking at the moment, but I’m not shooting for ideal. I’m shooting for a balance between the mental stress of doing nothing and the mental stress of doing something exceptionally unpleasant. We’ll call it the shortest route through the dark forest. (Seriously, click that link.) This workout fit that need quite well. I also managed a 2.5 hour outdoor ride on Saturday, despite the slushy drizzle. This neither was neither the four hours duration nor gravel for which I’d hoped leading into the weekend, but more than I expected of myself when I finally yelled “put clothes on, go outside, and pedal” at 2:30 p.m.

The root of my distress last week was really the idea of “all the things”, because I kept mentally naming off the all of the mildly unpleasant things I would have to face during the month and getting overwhelmed by the sum of them. You know, pretty much the opposite of that whole “count your blessings” thing at which happy, secure, “complete” people are supposed to be so adept. The fact of the matter was there was nothing on my plate for the next three weeks that was individually all that unpleasant; I was just going through a phase where I was tired and wanted to give up.

You would think that after the year that I've had that I wouldn't sweat the small stuff, as I've exhibited a level of resiliency that I never imagined I could possess two years ago. I think the problem is much like what Frank and I experienced at the Gravel Grovel; we thought it would be smooth sailing after covering all the major climbs during the first half of the race only realize that it was the regular old rolling chunkiness of miles 30-50 that were the most painful. I believe that I am in miles 30-50 of the approximately two-year “hole-healing” process that my therapist (yeah, of course I have one) has told me I can expect. My emotional legs are shot from the big climbs, and I’m not yet close enough to the finish for my “old lady strength” to kick in yet. I’m just at the point where I’m rolling along and the chunkiness is wearing on my patience.  

Once thing that did help my perspective since last week was receiving a nice Christmas card from one of the many new friends that I have made this year. I did have a momentary feeling of failure that I had not sent out Christmas cards to any of the people to whom I would like to show appreciation, nor had I purchased presents for anyone besides Frank and my parents, but luckily I didn't dwell on it too long and forgave myself that oversight. Sometimes I wonder if I energy that I've been putting into improving my connections with people is really paying off, and I also sometimes feel like I don’t have enough energy to put into my non-Frank relationships lately (thus the lack of Christmas cards), but getting that card was sort of a nice reminder that my efforts and existence are appreciated, even when they’re imperfect. 

So another week of December and another mile of chunky gravel have been traversed, and I am proud of the efforts I made to get some good out of them. Most days I still wish it didn't take so much effort just to do normal people things, but supposedly in life, unlike cycling, it does eventually hurt less instead of just going faster. Hopefully, the Hickory Church sign will appear on the horizon soon.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Week #49: Surviving December

"Survive December, succeed in March."

That is what I said last week, and since then I've been trying hard to live it. December is, in my opinion, the worst month for a cyclist. I suppose it might not be so bad if your holiday travel is limited to single day of sugary food celebration, but for many it requires extensive travel and/or time away from home and the normal routine. Even if there isn't travel, there are likely about a zillion holiday party thingies to throw off the routine and put tons of inappropriate food in front of your face. 

For example, I have three work-related lunch things and an afternoon departmental party in the next two weeks. This is a lot to handle for a girl who eats home cooked lunch at her desk 90% of the time. That will be followed by another week in which I will be in Oklahoma for most of the week and in Illinois for a few days on top of it. I will finally be home on the 28th or 29th, depending on various choices I need to make regarding driving and pet care. (If you're going to be in Bloomington between December 21-28 and would be willing to fill some food bowls and scoop some litter, you will have my eternal gratitude and maybe some good beer.) Then I can reestablish a proper winter training program.

I suppose that right now many are just trying to keep their edge for the rest of the week until the end of the regular cyclocross season, followed by a convenient end-of-season break, while the more ambitious/masochistic will attempt to hold their fitness through the holidays for nationals in January. For me, it feels more like a month in limbo. It's the one month of the year where I can't ride after work, even with my 4 p.m. departure time from work, and it doesn't seem worth it to ride the trainer with my impending time out of town, rather needless torture on which I can't really building anything. So I'm just sort of in do-what-I-can survival mode while waiting for the next Week #1 to arrive.

This weekend was definitely proof of this. It was my last scheduled visit with Frank until after Christmas, so when a winter storm threatened on Thursday night and early Friday morning, I refused to let it mess with my plans. After 11 white-knuckled hours I arrived in State College more exhausted than usual and woke up to a fairly thick blanket of snow covering everything the next morning. The plan had been to ride some easy in-town mountain bike trails on our 'cross bikes and then tack on some flat-ish gravel for distance. Of course, my legs felt like total crap, which I just have to learn that they will always feel like crap the day after a long drive and accept that I will have to train through it when I'm in Pennsylvania. This was not the weekend for that lesson to stick, though. We bumbled around one lap of the snowy trails and headed home. Unfortunately, as photogenic as a winter riding is, I didn't capture any pictures due to lobster gloves.

This weekend's scenic not-selfie.

Sunday brought more snow, and I *should* have made a trip to the fitness center at Penn State. I'm always lazier when I'm at Frank's, as well as when it's cold, which it definitely was, and I find orienting myself in a new gym very intimidating. Which is why I should have just sucked it up and gone, so that it would go more smoothly during the more serious training times of January and February.  

Have I mentioned that being in a long-distance relationship makes training a lot harder? Only a whole bunch of times? Okay. 

This weekend was basically a lesson in what not to do from a training perspective. I know that some things are more important than bikes and that the situation's only temporary, much like the month of December, but I want to keep striving to do the best I can in the situation. Sometimes it's hard to see the line between takes-this-shit-too-seriously jerk face, and lazy, excuse-making slug. Avoiding the latter is more the goal of my training these days than actual race results, because I've spent too many years wildly swinging between the two extremes. 

So I have to figure out something when the odds are against me and remember to keep making an effort when I want to give up, because something is better than nothing. January will come, as will March, and finally August. Those are the times when I hope to shine, but for now I just have to keep the pilot light burning. 

Our Sunday workout consisted of walking around choosing a Christmas tree, and for Frank, the manly job of sawing it down.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Anatomy of an Insta-Romance

After our well-navigated and non-bloody arrival in Illinois last week, Frank mentioned how it had been really hard to explain how we met to his parents over dinner. Admittedly, it is a very weird story, and I usually find it hard to explain "I met my boyfriend on Instagram" even to people my own age. I did give a quick summary when we first started dating, but apparently it just confused people more. So I've always wanted to make an attempt at written documentation, mostly for my own enjoyment. I won't be hurt if you find it too icky to read past this point.

Don't worry. They kept healing.
Our story begins in early March, or at least I've deduced from the hashtag that it was about 28 days after CX Worlds. I must have only been on Instagram for a few days at this point, because I remember signing up while I stayed home sick on February 28th. After importing some Facebook friends to follow, I latched onto the "Following" tab to see what everyone else was looking at. I took my social-media social cues from my Instagram veteran friends Dustin and Corinna, and saw they followed many people with similar interests that weren't necessarily real-life friends. So I started acquiring random people to follow, as well.

Among those I started following was "Glitter Gravel" who was the subject of much of the bike shop's train wreck loving hateration at the time. Dustin was supposedly the root of this, but since hateration is about the furthest thing from his M.O., I'm sure it started as a more benevolent fascination. Anyway, I followed her to find out what the fuss was about. For the record, her crime was basically just another that I myself have often been guilty of: getting super stoked on things and signing up for events above one's depth. You want big rewards? You gotta take big risks. Sometimes you fail.

More importantly, she lead me to the picture above when I was scrolling through others' liked pictures and thought, "What the heck is that?" upon seeing the thumbnail. I can't remember my exact train of thought, but I'm sure it was something in the vein that anyone who messed their legs up that badly at CX Worlds while spectating and had enough of a sense of humor to write #iammyownworldchampion was probably awesome enough to make my list of random people I followed. Frank did not have his flask confiscated that day.

Fast forward a couple of months, a Death March, and a divorce, during which time posts from "the guy who really likes beer" would occasionally catch my eye. (His side job is at a craft beer store where he likes to post pictures of interesting new arrivals.) I sort of remember noticing the picture of him modeling his "Squirrels, Squirrels, Squirrels" t-shirt (written in strip club-esque neon) in combination with his squirrel tattoos and again thinking he was sort of awesome. 

It wasn't until one day in May when I'd just finished cooking up my favorite seasonal treat of asparagus drowned in Hollandaise sauce and of course posting a picture. I was quite excited when less than an hour later I saw that someone else in my Instagram feed was enjoying asparagus as well. When I saw that it was "Beer/Squirrel Guy", I thought, "Beer/Squirrel Guy is pretty cool, I'll say something about our mutual love of asparagus." So I posted the unbelievably eloquent comment of, "Yay for asparagus pictures!"

Until that point he hadn't noticed my "likes" or followed me back, but I suppose my comment must have intrigued him a little. He started following me back and left an equally awkward comment on one of my tattoo pictures. And thus it went with the occasional back and forth likes up until the Gravel Metric.

After getting lost and limping back to DeKalb, on the car ride home I saw the above comment on my pre-race picture. The good luck had obviously not been received in time, but the sentiment was greatly appreciated. 

At that point he became more of a real person in my mind, and I wanted to actually get to know him. What followed was what could be kindly referred to as necessary research or unkindly referred to as stalking. I knew from his pictures he was on the Penn State cycling team, so I looked at some ECCC results and figured out his last name. This allowed me to find him on Facebook, and was followed by a few days of gathering the nerve to "cross social media platforms".

When I finally sent him a friend request on Facebook, I had planned to just sit back and gather information for a while. However, he apparently found my request a bit strange and felt the need to address the issue. He sent me a long, very nice introductory message, which only heightened my opinion of him. Over the next week or two we exchanged long messages in the style of old fashioned pen pals.  

Then came the liver. In response to Dustin's joking about wanting to eat "a big organ burger" after the Gravel Metric, I posted the contents of my freezer as it was getting down to the nasty bits before a new quarter beef shipment. It caught Frank's interest, as well, although not necessarily in a positive way. I later sent him a joking message about how if he was ever passing through Indiana he would probably be afraid to have dinner at my house because I'd serve him sheep liver. He responded that he'd been thinking it would be a good challenge for me to make it into something enticing. There it was. We had both thought about a dinner at my house scenario within the previous two hours.

As a native of Joliet, IL, he asked if I had ever seen The Blues Brothers. He told me that if I hadn't, he would drive here to watch it with me, and then I could cook up a tasty liver dinner. I said that I had not seen it, but even if I had, I would lie and say I hadn't, because he'd just described the best date ever, especially considering my "entertainment center" was a 14-inch TV/VCR combo with a portable DVD player hooked to it. 

Things quickly escalated from a vague reference to the price of VHS tapes on eBay to the revelation that he would be in Illinois in less than a week and would "stop by" on his way home so we could watch said tape. No big deal since it was only four hours out of the way. It was what my friend Sarah and I referred to as "a straight Josh Prater move" based on the odd but grand romantic gestures her now fiancee' used to win her over in the early days.

It was quite nerve-wracking knowing that someone I'd never met but to whom I was already somehow quite attached was coming to my house to watch a movie, eat some liver, watch the Stanley Cup final at a bar since I didn't have cable, then have him sleep at my house "in one capacity or another". The last part was the most awkward, but there really is no good solution to first dates when you live nine hours apart. 

Luckily, once he arrived and the awkward side-hugs were given, we eventually calmed down as we watched the movie, which had to be viewed on his laptop, because my VCR wouldn't play the tape. By the time it was over, it seemed we had come to a silent mutual agreement to drop facade that we weren't sure if we liked each other or not, and that was the moment at which our first kiss occurred. Then we had dinner in the most oddly intimate, "we've known each other forever" way as we picked through our baked liver pate' that was "like meatloaf, but bitter". 

By the end of the night calendars were already consulted regarding when we could see each other again, and thus began what was and continues to be the most complicated and wonderful few months of my life. 

Our first selfie in my very unscenic living room.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Week 48: Surviving the Gravel Grovel

And I know it's long gone,
And that magic's not here no more,
And I might be okay,
But I'm not [fast] at all.

Last week was a weird combination of jam-packed and utterly lazy at the same time. Frank got to spend the whole week with me, and we went to his parents' house in Illinois for a couple days for Thanksgiving. I somehow survived 36 hours in that state without getting lost or bleeding, and I think that my first meeting with his family went well. (If they hate me, I haven't found out about it yet.)

So we did a lot of things, but with a lot of sitting around on the couch between things. That all ended on Saturday, though, when took on the new and improved (if you consider way harder improved) Sub-9 Gravel Grovel. 

This year was much different for me than last year. Last year I only signed up to ride with a friend and didn't have any intention of even trying to finish until the morning of the race when she got sick and I saw that I'd be riding alone. Then I set out with no intention other than to just pedal as long as I could. I barely knew the course at all, so I really never knew how much distance I'd covered or how much I had left to go, and I wouldn't allow myself to look at the time until I was sure I was several hours in.

I won't say I wasn't intimidated by the harder course or the fact that I hadn't ridden longer than 40 miles since May, but I knew that making it to the end wouldn't be a problem. Leading up to the race, I made up the motto "Survive at the Gravel Grovel, succeed at the Death March", since that strategy seem to work for me last year. However, I secretly hoped/wished/planned that a little of last spring's Death March success still lay dormant in my muscle memory and would show itself on race day.

We admittedly were a little slow off the starting line, considering that my long recurring dream of still putting on my shoes as the gun goes off finally came true, but really we probably only lost 30-60 seconds from the people that were lined up at the back of the start. We cruised along and made up some places, only to lose most of them during our first food stop on Combs Road. When I saw how near the back we really were during the two-way section to and from Story, I started to feel discouraged. Although I was theoretically just out to finish the race, I hadn't truly expected to be among the slowest of the slow crowd. I also felt like a liability on Nebo Ridge where Frank was so far ahead of me that it became an obvious "I'm just waiting on my girlfriend" situation.   

Since we were too busy just trying to finish to get any scenic vista selfies, so instead I present you with the first Death March meme of the new season.
We finally made past Nebo, Baldy, and The Bitch, and started thinking that it couldn't be too bad from that point on, because all of the hard parts were done. Of course, there was all of the lingering fatigue from the "hard parts", and still 30 miles of mostly chunky gravel to go. We missed the entrance to the final singletrack section that I'd failed to ride on the previous weekend's recon, and that added a couple of extra miles. When we finally hit Tower Ridge road for the final 12 miles or so, we were both pretty cooked and just kind of peddled along staring into space. However, when I saw the sign for Hickory Grove Church my "old lady strength" kicked in because I knew I only had to tolerate a little over a mile of chunky before the smooth, mostly downhill of McPike Branch Rd carried us to the finish.

In the end, we finished about the same as I did last year if you account for our little detour. Most people were slower, so it does show some improvement. Janelle also beat me by four minutes less than the (admittedly huge) gap she had on me last year, so that's a good sign.

So I suppose I am done with racing until Death March, as I've let my anxiety regarding race entry fees win for the time being, but I've pledged to myself not to let fear stand in the way of potentially awesome experiences for very long. Now is the time to rebuild my stores financially and fitness-wise. Survive in December, succeed in March.