Monday, December 15, 2014

Drafting and Fatties

This weekend Frank and I got a bit further into winter training mode. Despite the fact that we will soon be out of town for about ten days on an epic holiday journey in which the amount of riding we will get done is questionable, I still jumped right into Death March training mode after our last ‘cross race in mid-November to try to get a head start on January’s work.

Yes, my location may have changed, but my winter motivation has not. I know the Hoosier National Forest roads well enough at this point that I feel pretty confident in our ability to show up and Death March just fine, as long as our fitness is good. At the very least, we need to beat the other co-ed team from Pennsylvania, who blew past us a couple of times last year only to finish a place behind because we knew our route better. That, of course, is what I love about Death March, but every year more teams seem to figure out the solid “standard” route, and speed becomes a bit more of a factor than course knowledge. So already knowing our route for race day, our challenge for the winter is to be prepared to actually race bikes on March 14 if necessary.

 The last couple of years have been interesting for me, because rather than following a coach-prescribed workout plan that should theoretically prepare me for the type of event for which I’m training, most of my training has been focused on improving on the actual course of my goal event. I’ve been lucky in that sense, but 2015 is going to be a different beast. I won’t see the H.N.F until Death March day, and I’ve actually been giving a lot of thought towards *gasp* racing mountain bikes outside of Rothrock next spring and summer. Like, I’m strongly considering getting back together with cross country racing (no accompanying Taylor Swift parody yet, though). So in 2015 I will need to figure out the best way to prepare for my goal races without training on the actual course.

Death March prep will be especially interesting, because not only will I not be able to ride the course, I likely won’t even see that much gravel before March. So far I’ve managed to get in one long gravel ride on November 23, but since then mid-week snow has managed to leave the gravel roads an icy mess every weekend. For some reason they just don’t melt off here as well as they did in Indiana, so I’m trying to make peace with the fact that the gravel could very easily not be rideable for all of January and February.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a plan that I hope will train all of the key elements of Death March success without actual course recon. Probably my biggest weakness on a bike is maintaining speed through long flat-to-rolling road sections. A time-trialist I am not. Unfortunately, despite the back country adventure vibe of the Death March, a successful route will still include a large percentage of pavement, and going for additional time bonuses beyond the standard will not only mean more pavement, but that you will need to roll it very fast to make it worth your time.

The first pillar of the plan is to conquer my fear and loathing of the biggest missing piece in my Death March toolbox: drafting. Apparently a 6’2” ~165 pound male riding partner is good for more than just eye candy and moral support; if used correctly he can supposedly make you go faster. Being the control freak that I am, I’ve never been into letting someone else be in charge of the pace or block my line of sight, but this year I’m really going to try and get over that.

This means that one component of our 2015 training will be using the 15 mile out-and-back of gently rolling pavement just beyond the edge of town to practice drafting and maintaining the strongest tempo possible. Our Saturday workout was our first attempt at this, and I can’t say that it went particularly well. We had a strong headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back, and the way back was a little better, at least. We just need to work out our communication and getting more in sync, and then hopefully we’ll be able to rip all of the flat and rolling pavement sections in March.

The second pillar of the plan is climbing, especially climbing when I’m tired. What my winter may lack in gravel, it will certainly make up for in elevation gain. So my intent is that every Saturday from Christmas until Death March we will work on our drafting/tempo pace for the 15-mile out-and-back, and then head back out of town in the more climby direction to do my favorite climbing workout. Admittedly, this is going to be a killer, as it will include nearly as much elevation gain as the Death March in half the distance, but it will definitely hit all the necessary skills. So far we’ve only managed to do the drafting and the climbing separately, because the mountain seems a lot harder on knobby tires and strewn with sand, but after the holidays it will be time suck it up and start combining them into one workout.

Finally, the third pillar will be endurance, which I normally gain just by riding the course. As it is, we’re just going to have to shoot for as many 4+ hour Sunday rides as we can get, and I’m going to get over my distaste for pavement and let my resistance come from climbing instead of gravel. I’ll still probably be a little out of practice on climbing very loose, steep stuff by spring, but if I successfully carry out the plan, I’ll be much stronger in all of the major fitness elements than I ever have been.

Since January isn’t here quite yet, and a local bike shop was hosting a fat bike ride with free demo bikes, we opted out of a 4-hour paved sufferfest for one weekend. We still got a couple of hours of pretty hard riding in, as climbing on fat bikes is undeniably difficult, and my out-of-shape descending muscles got a workout as I let the fatty rip on the downhills. It was fun, but I’m still definitely more focused on saving up for a new carbon fiber cross bike than I am a fat bike. Frank, however, is becoming a bit more infatuated, so there may be groomed XC ski trails in my future in lieu of icy gravel.

Thanks to Freeze Thaw Cycles for hosting the event, and for this picture which shows Frank and me in the background riding in my preferred configuration: side-by-side and chatting in the most non-aero way possible.

Monday, December 8, 2014

It Could Have Been Easy

Here you are now 
Calling me up 
But I don't know what to say 
I've been picking up the pieces of the mess you made 
People like you always want back the love they pushed aside 
But people like me are gone forever 
When you say goodbye 

 Hey, all you had to do was stay 
Had me in the palm of your hand 
Man, why'd you have to go and lock me out when I let you in 
Stay, hey, now you say you want it back, 
Now that it's just too late 
Well it could've been easy, all you had to do was stay 

Last Friday I was engaging in my preferred Friday task of non-mentally-taxing data clean-up work. It’s a nice way to close out the week on a relaxed note while still actually accomplishing something. While doing this, I was using my remaining free brain space to listen to Taylor Swift's 1989 album and mentally rewrite the entire thing into cycling-themed parodies. I was inspired by the “Taylor Swift’s 1989 Playlist Workout” that I’d seen the day before, and I felt that I could really do it one better.

 “All You Had to Do Was Stay” wasn’t a song that had got much of my attention in my previous listens, as it was just another play on the “dude begging to get back together” theme that is already in too many of her songs, and that I can only assume is based on common fantasy more than real-life experience. I just don’t think that dudes really beg to come back that much, but it is fun to imagine to telling them to eff off if they do. Anyway, with the cycling-parody challenge, the song suddenly became more appealing. Since I’ve been desperately trying to get back together with my early-2013 fitness level lately, the song became an ironic taunt to myself that inspired me through the weekend’s training.

 During my blogging break, I wrapped up my cyclocross season and started to get an early jump on winter Death March training. I’ve also had a lot of time to reflect on what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost in the last two years. I’ve gained wonderful life partner, mountains five miles from my back door, and a job where I’m learning tons about the right way to so many things procedurally and interpersonally. I feel like I’m finally living up to my intellectual potential (while still having busy work when I want it, because I do like it sometimes). I’ve also gained 13 pounds, lost the best fitness that I’d ever had, and lost touch with people who I had just begun to get close to when I left Bloomington. I’ve gotten to the point of accepting that success is not a linear progression, and it’s okay that I wasn’t able to fix *everything* in two years’ time. I might not even have it all fixed in another two years, but it’s also time to congratulate myself on my wins and start recouping my losses.

Now when I look at the flab on my stomach and thighs, or struggle through a 45-mile ride, I tell myself, “It could have been easy; all you had to do was stay,” and it makes the work ahead of me seem not as bad. I could have saved myself the trouble of rebuilding my fitness from the bottom and maybe could have been capping off a spectacular ‘cross season back in OVCX-land right now. I would be getting to spend time with my friends, which admittedly would have been nice. I wouldn’t know true love, though, and my nights would be spent riding my bike and eating dinner alone, with just the hope of weekend socialization. The fitness part would have been easy, but the rest wouldn’t have been.

So the challenge I face now is still easier than it would have been to live out the rest of my life without Frank. All the rest will come back to me, or it won’t. I’m also reassessing the fact that my life always seems to be about “getting there”, but I think that’s a subject for another day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Blogging Break

It’s been easy to put off writing my report from our SSCXWC/Eva Bandman adventure in Louisville over the weekend, since we were driving home all day Monday, and I was catching up on work on Tuesday. However, even with being busy, I really just haven’t felt like writing about it. I’ve been mulling over what to write since Sunday night, and I even came up with a potentially funny “you’re doing it wrong” angle on how my SSCXWC experience went awry when I got so drunk that it was almost like I was taking the race seriously due to the amount of focus required. I actually had a pretty good race at Eva Bandman, where despite feeling physically awful before the race and expecting myself to tank, I had probably my second-best finish since moving up to the elite women’s wave in OVCX. As you can see, though, I was able to fit all of the relevant facts into one short paragraph, so trying to expand it out into something witty and interesting would basically just be self-indulgence.

I will also indulge myself with one last cell phone grade picture of myself racing in a Ninja Turtle costume.

I mean, 90% of the purpose behind this blog is self-indulgence, but for the past few months I’ve begun to feel that it’s switched to a kind of self-indulgence that isn’t beneficial. Over the course of nearly eight years that I’ve been writing, I have gone through many rough patches where I just didn’t post for a while with the old adage of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” in mind.

 Then a couple of years ago I began the experiment of being more open about the realities of my mind and life and committing to weekly reports on my progress no matter what. For many months it was a great help to me, because it kept me accountable and taught me how to share and ask for help. It was a way for me to have “someone to talk to” at a time when I had no close relationships with actual humans with whom I could share my feelings.

Through the journey of telling the truth on the Internet, I gained the courage to form relationships with actual humans, and it eventually lead to one very special relationship with one very special human being with whom I can have open and honest conversation about anything on a daily basis. I also got to know a lot of other really great people with whom I didn’t get to spend enough time before I ran off to be with my one very special human being in Pennsylvania. I’ve spent a lot of time of the last few months being sad about the relationships that I couldn’t make last and feeling like it was because I wasn’t likeable/memorable/worthwhile enough.

So that is when I started struggling with honesty vs. just plain negativity in my writing. I know that it’s just my crazy brain telling me that nobody cares what is going on with me, anyway, but I’ve realized that blogging and social media are really exacerbating those negative feelings right now. Then it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy of those negative feelings turning me into a whiny, unlikeable person from whom no one wants to hear any updates.

That is why I’ve decided to take a break from my blog for a while, stop dwelling on the past, and put my energy towards building real-life positive relationships to fill in the space around the life that I’m building with my very special human being relationship. Maybe in a few months I’ll feel like challenging myself with crafting funny reports about my racing experiences, or I’ll even figure out how to use my enjoyment of the writing process towards some less self-indulgent topic. For now, though, I will say see you later, and thanks for reading!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Return to Cross

The past weekend brought an end to my three-week break from cyclocross and provided further evidence that taking more than one weekend off from racing in a row is pretty much a terrible idea. Of course, the fact that, with the exception of a couple of good but moderate-effort weekend rides, we became pretty darn lazy over the break did not help at all. We did, however, finish watching the last couple of seasons of The Wire.

So I knew that returning to racing this weekend would be tough. I actually got pretty stressed out about the fact that we were coming back to a double weekend that required us to be away from home on Saturday night. With the laziness, my parents coming to visit, etc. I’d really let myself slip into some bad habits of eating crappy food, drinking too much beer, and not getting enough sleep. Basically, I’ve been feeling pretty terrible lately, and I panicked a bit when I realized that my circumstances would not be very conducive to feeling better until we returned from Louisville after SSCXWC.

I guess the good news is that, despite my anxiety, I was able to move forward with the races and the overnight trip and still have a pretty good time. I basically just told Frank before left that I was having a hard time and was anxious about the weekend so that he would be aware, but I left it at that, because any further explanation would have just been useless complaining. As expected, I ate and drank things that made me feel better at the time and worse the next day, and a night of sleeping on an air mattress didn’t do my physical condition any good, but I got spend time with some cool people and see a “real” haunted house for the first time. So I’m proud of myself that I’m not letting feeling crappy make me fall apart and miss out on life the way it used to, but I’m still disappointed that I’m regularly turning to food when I need an emotional pick-up when a year ago I was fully convinced that I’d kicked my eating disorder for good.

 Anyway, the races went about the way one would expect based on the information above. Saturday’s Star Rock Cross race seemed to bring out only the strongest of the PACX Women’s 3/4 field, plus little old me. predicted me to finish solidly in last place, and when my body started screaming at me halfway through the first lap, I didn’t do much to argue with it. I had to scale back and soft pedal for a bit before I started to ramp my pace back up for the last three laps. This at least allowed to have a decent racing experience while I worked to catch and repass the two 45+ women that got in front of me during my blow-up.

Sunday’s West Chester Cross Classic was even more of a day just to be survived. I was completely unmotivated to engage in any sort of battle out on the course. I simply wanted to get through the race knowing that doing so would make the next one a tiny bit easier. I guess that is the one upside of not having a lot of people who know me at PACX races; when I don’t feel like trying, at least I can just not try in peace without anyone yelling at me about it. 

One sort of funny thing that happened was during the first lap I had passed the girl in front of me and was seemingly starting to close a gap up to the main field that I’d let open at the beginning. Then the girl came around me and said, “Let’s go get that group!” Ha, she definitely doesn’t know much about how to motivate me. By coming around and *telling* me that I needed to go faster, she pretty much ensured that I would not, but if she’d stayed on my wheel I would have buried myself trying to shake her and maybe even actually made it up to the group in the process. At least Frank has figured out that the best way to make me go faster to is to get behind me instead of trying to pull me along.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Parent's Weekend

There’s not much to tell bike-wise from the past week, because my parents came to visit over the weekend. Coincidentally, it was Parent’s Weekend for Penn State, which had very little to do with us, other than the fact that all of the hotels in town were booked.

It was kind of a big deal, since, although Frank and I have been dating for nearly 16 months and have lived together for six, it was the first time that he and my parents had met. Given, I hadn’t seen them since last Christmas myself, and although willingness to go back to Oklahoma with me for the holidays was a requirement for any potential new relationship, Frank did get off the hook until we could at least make the trip from the same starting point.

The weekend was even more jam-packed with touristy stuff than it normally is with just me and my mom, partially to keep my dad entertained, and partially because it was inconvenient to just hang out either at our place or the cabin where they were staying. Frank got full emersion in the family fun, only missing the trip to the antique auto museum that we made while he was in class on Friday morning.


Saturday consisted of an all-day trip to a town about 2.5 hours away to go on a train ride through the area in which the first commercial oil wells in the United States were drilled. My dad has worked for oil companies on and off throughout the years, so it was meant to be interesting for him, but the rest of us enjoyed the fall foliage and seeing new parts of the state.

The adventures concluded with our traditionally family activity of cavern tours. This time it was at Penn’s Cave, in which the tour takes place by boat. I think the first picture of mine that Frank ever “liked” on Instagram was from the last cavern tour that my mom and I did, so it was nice having him there for the next one a year and a half later.

Now it’s time to start wrapping my brain around the second half of cyclocross season, which will sprint to a pre-Thanksgiving finish with eight races in six weeks. I’m a bit apprehensive, because even though I was hitting a good groove before the break, I’m worried that three weeks was enough time for my body to lose the pain immunity that one builds after several back-to-back weekends of racing. I guess a double this weekend should get it started coming back quickly, at least. The good news is that we are hopefully done with the hot racing, even if the forecast is still not showing any rain for either day this weekend. I’m starting to think Frank went to all that trouble of regluing my Limuses for nothing.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Real Weekend

I don't ride you enough because 
Love wasn't what I thought it once was 
But I thought it once was 
Mashing over everything 
And taking off your small chainrings 
No, now I know and now I see 
I'm not afraid no more 
No no no no no no 

So why are you always trying to stay at home? 
Raystown can't be played alone 
It was made to be played with... 

 My my Monkey and I 
 My Monkey and I 
My Monkey and I 
D-doing just fine, yeah

I guess I’m replacing my Taylor Swift lyric intros with (modified) Haim lyric intros. I’m not sure if this is really an improvement, but since I spent some time with an old friend this weekend, I thought it was appropriate.

 Frank and I just completed our first real weekend in nine weeks. I think getting into the ‘cross groove helped pull me out of the rut that I was in for most of the summer, so I was a bit reluctant to take a break, even though there were no races in PA this weekend. There was one in Maryland, but it would have been silly to drive 3 hours each way just to get a ‘cross fix that didn’t really count for anything. Instead we opted to do the fun stuff that we’ve been ignoring all summer and early fall, namely singlespeed mountain biking and gravel riding.

We also watched probably 12 episodes of The Wire, to which Frank has recently introduced me. I actually feel pretty proud that we were able to balance that level of laziness and still manage to get our planned rides in. I obviously have forgotten what a real weekend feels like.

Our first trip to Raystown back in June left us largely unimpressed, but I suspected that it would be more fun on a singlespeed than it was on my Lust. So on Saturday, we finally let the Karate Monkey out the garage for the first time since moving into our apartment, and packed up Frank’s newly-converted Chumba hardtail, whose gnar bike status was taken by his recently-acquired Anthem 29er. My recent ‘cross results have been a pretty good indicator of the actual state of my fitness lately, but the Karate Monkey was brutally honest in its assessment. I remember how strong I felt when I started riding it regularly in the spring of 2013, and on Saturday it was apparent by the number of rest breaks that I required how much of that old strength has slipped away from me.

It made me reminisce about that time period, and how weird it felt to be riding the bike that I used to ride all the time. That bike was an amazing post-divorce coping mechanism, but as I transitioned from post-divorce, to long-distance relationship, to moving to one of the most singlespeed-unfriendly places I can think of, it lost its place in my life. I still laugh sometimes about how a friend called my relationship with Frank “just a rebound thing” as I responded to an “I love you, CX mentor” text while I sat dateless at Fred and Liz’s wedding last fall. I hope that, over a year later, we’ve proven to be more than that in the eyes of others, but if not, we certainly have proven it to ourselves. I think I’m as surprised as anyone at my mere two-month single period that ended with my falling in love with and eventually moving to Pennsylvania for the first guy with whom I even went on a date. So I often think of the Karate Monkey as my rebound relationship, and instead of embarrassing drunken bar make-outs, I just used beat-up wrists and burning quads to work through my emotions. As difficult as the ride was on Saturday, it made me want to make more trips to Raystown and get reacquainted with my strength from the old days, but you know, minus all the crappy parts that I’ve forgotten.

We also got to demo fat bikes. It was fun to try out, and it gripped ridiculously well in the corners, but the sore lack of climbing ability made me wonder why anyone would want to use one as their go-to trail bike. I still wish I had a cheap one for snow-riding in the winter, though.

Finally, we reacquainted ourselves with gravel. We’ve discussed the matter and decided to keep up the tradition of “Surviving the Gravel Grovel”, even though cyclocross season doesn’t allow us to actually train for it. In a weird way, it almost makes it more fun.

We did, however, decide to take advantage of our last chance to ride gravel before the Gravel Grovel. The plan was to climb up to a gravel road that runs along the ridge about halfway up the mountain that we climb on Tuesdays. The ride is an out-and-back that can be up to 40-something miles, but we decided just to go and turn around when we felt like it. I felt surprisingly good, and we ended up turning around due to being a bit underdressed for the mid-50’s, overcast, and windy conditions that we hadn’t experience in a while, rather than being tired. We also made the mistake of trying to “change it up” by riding out on a long, gnarly descent back to the main road. Frank got a flat about halfway down, discovered that he had no tube or patch kit, and the ride ended with me riding home alone and coming back in the car for him.

I still ended up with 25.7 miles, which by Strava’s silly mileage-centric standards was my biggest ride of the year. Strava obviously has no appreciation for gnar.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Town Hall Cross

All my life I was trying to get on a highway 
I was wondering which way to go 
Spending all of my damn time 
Leaving all the weight behind

This weekend we picked up again with the PACX series at Town Hall Cross in Bethlehem, PA. Being closer to Pennsylvania cyclocross “civilization” (Philadelphia) than the previous two PACX races, the turn-out was bigger than before. At staging I heard a girl complaining about losing her front row start because the first two races were “too far”, meaning that they were approximately as far away for her as every race is for us. I didn’t want to race bikes in a cornfield in 80-something degrees on August 31st, either, but I wanted a good call-up for the season, so I did. It was very similar to hearing OVCXers say that Bloomington was too far to go from Cincinnati, when the Bloomington faithful were out on the two-lane highways to the south and east every Sunday with little complaint.

After all that, I almost didn’t get my reward for racing in a cornfield in August. I noticed my number was seemingly too high when I got it, but I thought that maybe the numbers were in order of registration but would they would still call the women with series points up to the front row. There were only about five of us with points, but then I saw that the others were being called up by their appropriately low numbers. I stopped the official and said that I should be in the front row because I had points, and she just kind of shrugged and motioned for me to go up. Then she threw in the jab of, “Did you pre-register?” as I started to roll up. That really pissed me off, because of course I did, or why would I have said anything? I guess next time if my number doesn’t look right, I need to say something at registration. So much for OVCX and their call-up lists posted on the Internet the day before the race; here they don’t even bother with names.

It probably didn’t actually matter that I got into the front row, because the start did not suit me at all. It was a long uphill drag up to a climb of who knows how many switchbacks. I didn’t fare too well on the race to the switchbacks and on the first pass it was hard to get a rhythm with everyone so bunched up. That’s unfortunate, because switchbacks are the only time I like climbing in ‘cross. The rest of the course was pretty flat and twisty after the big downhill bomb from the top, so I tried to make up spots there. I thought I was doing pretty well, but I was still getting redlined trying to defend my position on the straights. The heat started to sap me as it always does, and each time up the climb I got a little weaker. I spent most of the last two laps battling with a couple of girls who were a bit faster on the climb, but slower on the turns. It seemed like there was still a decent number of people behind us, but they must have been all juniors and 45+ women, because the results showed me as 19th out of 20 in the 3/4 race.

I can’t say that I was happy when I saw the results, but I’m strangely not taking my new place in the cyclocross hierarchy too badly. I almost feel like I should feel bad that I don’t feel more bad about it, but the fact of the matter is that I’m racing again. Like, actually racing. I’m not just showing up and going through the motions; I’m actually fighting again. I actually don’t understand why I’m as slow as I am right now, but at this point there’s nothing I can do but keep racing and hope the tide turns.

Racing every weekend seems to be doing me a lot of good mentally, too. The depression I was feeling over the summer seems to have lifted, and I’m not overcome by the “I’ll never get back into shape” demons that I encountered when I was trying to break through the wall of mountain bike fitness with my tiny hammer. I guess my biggest problem through the spring and summer was not knowing what to do to make myself better. Cyclocross season, I know how to do that. I feel better now that I have steady weekly schedule that doesn’t overtax me mentally or physically, and whether I manage to show some breakthrough fitness this season or not, it’s laying a good foundation for the winter.

I’m actually kind of sad that I won’t be racing again until October 19, but there are no races in PA next weekend, and my parents are coming to visit the weekend after that. My hope is that I won’t lose the progress that I’ve made during the surprisingly quick first half of the season, and that I’ll come back in three weeks to more ‘crosslike weather and hopefully even some mud.


I also need to mention that, despite my terrible placing, Frank got his first podium on Saturday with third place in the singlespeed class. I'm pretty proud of my 'cross protege, even if he is doing better than me now.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Charm City CX

This weekend we travelled to Baltimore for Charm City CX. These races were the third and fourth of the MAC series, and Frank had already registered for them when we decided to pursue the PACX series instead. It’s probably just as well, since I sort of prefer to race every weekend once the series starts, and these were the only races in the region.

If nothing else, the course certainly made up for the lack of “features” that I have seen so far this season. It contained the standard set of barriers, a flyover, two sets of three-step stairs, and a *quadruple* sandpit.

 The thing about the stairs was that the steps were so high that I probably couldn’t really run them, even wearing sneakers and not carrying a bike. I pretty much had to lift my bike to step above me and then use it to help pull myself up. It was not a quick maneuver. The setup of that section seemed to suit me well otherwise, as it would involve a tight downhill turn into the stairs, a run to the top, then another tight downhill into the next set. I got pretty good at coming in hot to the bottom of the stairs and still managing a good dismount, so it made me not hate them as much as I would have otherwise. None of the other girls could really climb them any faster than me, and I was better at the swoopy down and punchy ups that surrounded them.

The sandpit was another story. Instead of the standard run through the sand, short 180 degree turn on grass, then back through the sand setup, some particularly sadistic course designers decided to put in two more 180 degree turns for a total of four trips through the sand. This was definitely my Achilles heel on the first day, as mostly spent the race competing against the sandpit at the expense of competing with the competition. In typical Lindsay “Imma ride it, dammit!” style, I stayed on my bike until I fell over even though I could clearly see other girls going faster on foot. The first lap I made it halfway through the third pass, halfway through the fourth the next, and finally made it through all four on the third lap. Of course, I had still lost places to the runners when I successfully rode the whole thing, so the last lap I tried running the entire thing. It was definitely faster at first, but I was incapable of running that fast for all four pits. On Day 2 I narrowed it down to a reasonably successful “ride three, run one” strategy that was the fastest method that I could come up with, but it still left me feeling like I might poop my pants up the exit of the fourth pass.

It may seem strange that I have spent so much time describing the course before I really even begin to describe my races, but when I think about it, I do feel like my races were more of me against the course this weekend than me against any other girls. With 50+ starters both days and me in the next-to-last row, knowing that I would be caught up in traffic was a given. They also funneled us into a bottlenecking feature less than a minute into both days, the first being a straight shot into the stairs section and the second day being a weird little 180 degree off-camber left turn.

I think I must have done reasonably well on the stairs the first day, as I lost more places than I gained as the race went on. After the stairs there was long straight climb up an old sidewalk that had too much grass growing between the cracks to actually resemble pavement. I think it was actually bumpier than grass. Each lap girls would pass me on this climb as I moderated my effort up it, but then I would make the places back through the bombing downhill followed by a series of punchy climbs and swoopy downhills that followed. Then I would lose those places back during my sandpit experiments. It was annoying because I was faster than all of the girls around me on everything but the sidewalk climb and the sandpit, but those two things were enough to lose probably 10-15 places for me throughout the course of the race. I ended up 36th out of 49.

Day 2 was much the opposite. I knew the little off-camber turn at the beginning would be a mess, so I took it pretty easy from the start until that section. If I was going to have to slow to a near-stop, anyway, there was no point in making myself tired first. By the time I got there, it was just a sea of girls running, but I calmy soft-pedaled through the crowd, watched for my chance, and slipped through the gap still on my bike. I didn’t really make up any places doing this, but I exited the section feeling completely calm and fresh while the others had already wasted energy scrambling. Things didn’t stay so calm as I set about the business of working my way through traffic.

 Things are kind of a blur for the rest of the prologue lap as the junior boys who had started a minute back started catching us, which was extremely frustrating. I had to deal them trying to stupidly/aggressively pass me while I was trying to pass girls myself. I just remember a lot of yelling and rubbing and getting knocked around, then finding myself entering the first full lap and realizing that I was stuck back in a very slow group. From that point, I was on a campaign to work my way through traffic and get as many places back as possible. By employing my new “ride three, run one” sandpit technique, I was even able to hold my position there. I made up quite a few spots, which even included winning a sprint to the line, because the girl I was chasing didn’t realize that we were lapped and done. I’m not sure how I finished because the results aren’t out yet, and I’m sure my time spent at the back will make the final place worse that I’d hoped, but I was still pretty happy with how I executed that race.

Next up is a PACX race on Saturday, and then a three week break before we conquer the second half of the season. I’m looking forward to racing in a smaller and slightly better-known field next weekend.

Monday, September 15, 2014

PACX #2: Rivertown Bummertown

As Frank and I walked across the field to registration at yesterday’s PACX Rivertown ‘Cross race, we encountered a small boy on the tiniest-sized pedal bike available being chased by his 1 or 2 year-old sister. He was maintaining a lead of about one bike length and kept looking back to taunt her. Then he crashed hard while looking back, and knowing that he wasn’t actually hurt, we couldn’t help but laugh. I said to Frank, “A significant part of winning is staying upright”, and that sort of set the tone for the day.

I was actually pretty excited for this race, as once again had me slated for a podium performance. However, unlike last time, I had enough knowledge to actually sort of believe it, as there were only seven women pre-reg’d and only one first-timer. I did my research and Google image searched which jerseys I should keep my eye on.

When I saw that the course was significantly more technical than anything that I’d encountered so far this season, I felt even better. It was right next to the river and was similar to Eva Bandman in that sense: one side going up and down the levy next to the road, some meandering on the flood plain, and some singletrack-esque stuff in the woods directly on the river’s edge with some nice drops in and out. There one sketchy corner into the woods with a gravel-to-loose-sand transition where I almost crashed on my warm-up while I was chatting, so I made an extra effort go back and scout it a second time by myself. This effort proved fruitful later on.

I went for the holeshot and took it successfully, although I didn’t really have much intention of holding it. I just wanted to throw the first punch and see who responded. My legs felt kind of awful on the first punchy climb, despite my most extensive warm-up efforts in a long time, and I was passed by two girls, followed by another two on the next climb. I made it into the first woods section in fifth place and was able to stop the hemorrhage there, and recover a bit. Coming back out to the switchback climb up the levy, I could see two girls still within catching distance, and I started to reel them as we bombed back down to the woods.

Approaching the first sketchy little scramble up to the back part of the course, I passed a girl who had crashed and did a mental happy dance to find myself in fourth. “Just one more place to podium”, I thought. The back part of the course was almost all twists, turns, and singletrack, so I was within a few bike lengths of third at the end of the first lap. She gapped me again on the levy during the second lap, and I was beginning my campaign to reel her back in on the back section when she crashed on the loose sand corner that I had carefully planned in my warm-up. I couldn’t help but celebrate how my ability to stay upright was paying off.

I passed her, motored through the singletrack, and hammered through levy section of the third lap. The last hill of this section was a double-barrier run-up with a turn into an off-camber remount. I was a mere remount and drop into the woods before I could start building my lead for a last-lap assault to the podium. Then I kicked my rear brake open just and helplessly fumbled to close it while three girls passed me.

So it was not my fitness, my handling skills, or an impact-induced mechanical such as a flat or ripped off derailleur hanger that ruined what was probably on one shot at a podium for the season. It was a stupid little problem that I was aware of all season and never fixed. I even pointed out that I would need to be careful remounting on that hill, because I wouldn’t have the room or speed for the kind of clean remount that would my rear brake safe.

 Of course, it was idiotic of me to put myself in the situation where I had to worry about something dumb like that on top of normal race exertion. I had kicked my rear brake open on a remount exactly once during my cyclocross career prior to this season, and yet it happened almost every lap of the relay cross race, several times at Wednesday CX practice, and of course, during the first day of Nittany Lion Cross when I wasn’t so upset about having to stop for a couple of minutes to fix it. I’m afraid that this is the result of my resorting to the Salt Creek Cycle’s “Post Death March Overhaul Special” during my super-broke single girl desperation last spring. Since then, both the front and rear brakes are stupidly hard to close, and yet the rear brake opens with the tiniest of bumps. I should have been more insistent on doing something to fix the problem after the relay cross race, but Frank kind of acted like it wasn’t a problem, so I didn’t push the issue.

As a result, this was the most devastating race that I’ve ever experienced. As hard as it has been for me to go all in during races the last couple of seasons, I was finally able to see the tiniest bit of success back within my reach, and I was gutting myself to try and get it. I know that getting a podium in a tiny local race with a not particularly strong field shouldn’t mean that much. I know that even though my license says that I’m a 3, that I’m not even a good 4 right now, but that silly little podium would have made me feel like I was on the road to maybe being one again. So to have it be so close and then be ripped away because of something so dumb was heartbreaking.

Despite last night’s railing against Frank’s attempts to comfort me by saying that I’d have other chances this season, because realistically I probably won’t, I still registered for Charm City this morning, ran the race predictor, and started plotting all over again. So I guess I’m more resilient than I thought was, and I have, in fact, still managed to stay upright once again.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nittany Lion Cross

And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that's all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.

This weekend we traveled to Trexlertown, PA for Nittany Lion Cross, which was the opening weekend of the MAC series. We’d already signed up weeks ago in an attempt to get good call-ups, even though we later decided that we are going to pursue the PACX series instead of the MAC. Regardless, it was still a good opportunity to get some racing in, and try to be ready for the PACX races later in the season.

The first day was blazing hot again, and it took its toll on me. I rode well enough in the first lap, although there was a lot of traffic. Despite my quick sign-up, I was still called up 31st, because everyone with any MAC points at all from last year got priority. It didn’t really matter in the end, because I didn’t fare well on the roughly bajillion long straightaways that made up the course. I kept being passed by 2-3 girls on each one until the end of the second lap where the heat really got to me and I succumbed to the “I can’t keep going this hard for two more laps” thoughts. I slowed waaay down to try and get my body feeling under control again, during which time I was passed by several more people. Then I kicked my rear brake open on a remount near the end of the third lap. The stupid amount of time it took get it hooked in again did give me a chance to catch my breath, but also lost me a few more places. At least when I finally got going again, I was able to put in a decent last lap, but there weren’t a lot of people left to chase down, so I ended the day 50th out of 55.

The second day was cooler and a little damper, with one good mud puddle, at least. I started out with the goal of simply riding hard the entire race and not blowing up. There was also a girl that I was getting close to catching before my blow-up on the first day, so I also set the goal that if she were in my sights once the initial scramble cleared out, that I would work extra hard not to let her get away. I was more conservative during the first lap than the day before, which meant that I was basically just cruising around amidst the traffic for the first lap. It’s not really my style to sit behind girls that are slower than me in the turns, but after the suffering I’d experienced in the last couple of races, I decided to just deal with the annoyance for a while rather than putting myself in the hurt box to get in front them only to be passed back in the straights and be much worse for the wear. As much as practicing patience during this race annoyed me, I guess it was what I needed to do.

Near the end of the second lap, I found myself closing in on my mark, but with two laps to go, I decided not to put in a pass until I was more confident that it was going to stick. This meant following her slowly through the twisty part at the end of the second lap, then letting the rubber band stretch a bit through the long straightaway through the finish. I set a steady pace going into the third lap and watched her slowly come back to me. I was finally right back on her wheel before a 180, and I decided to go for it. I sprinted to the turn, got on the gas, and never saw her again. I did my best to recover from that effort and stay strong through the rest of the lap, but I couldn’t seem to gain any ground on the next group of girls who were about a minute up. I ended up 40th out of 50, which was an improvement on the day before, but nowhere near the mid-20’s place that I’d hoped for coming into the weekend.

So now I have a pretty honest assessment of where I stand at the beginning of this season, and although it’s not where I want to be, at least now I can adjust my goals to my current state of fitness. The good news is that I will soon have both victims and nemeses on again, which hasn’t really been the case the last couple of years. So although a series championship is probably off the table, I can at least focus on converting the latter to the former, just as I did on Sunday.

My biggest struggle since moving to State College is that my methods for training, eating, etc. that have brought me success in the past don’t work in the new context, and I have yet to discover what does work for me now. I feel like I’m getting closer, so I hope that this cyclocross season can be used for good in that sense. My 2012 season was a bust results-wise, but I learned a lot of important things that helped me be successful in the winter and spring. That is, of course, until I blew away the context again and had to start over in new circumstances. What I hope to gain from this season is to start learning some new success strategies that will hopefully pay off next year, even if the success is not immediately apparent.

Monday, September 1, 2014

PACX #1: Cross of the Corn

Last week when I said that it was time to say goodbye to summer, I had no idea how immediate that would be. We'd planned our first individual 'cross races of the season to be next weekend at Nittany Lion Cross, which is the opening weekend of the MAC series. I wasn't really that stoked on racing the MAC series this season, because the races were all a minimum of 2.5 hours away, they didn't allow even a single drop race in their series scoring, and they didn't have a singlespeed race even for the men, so Frank didn't have a lot of choice outside of the 9 a.m. men's 4/5 race. However, Frank posted a link to the PACX Series site, which I previously hadn't heard of, on my Facebook wall on Wednesday, and although we had our 'cross plans all laid out, it didn't take long for me to change them.

The PACX series counts the best eight out of ten races, and I will only have to miss the one that is the same weekend as SSCXWC/Eva Bandman. It also has the women's race at 12:15 and a men's singlespeed race at 3:30. The races are also much closer on average for us, so we will just be racing two the first two weekends of the MAC series that we'd already signed up for, then keeping it to PACX the rest of the season, save our road trip to Louisville.

The Team Awesome Junior Gnarsity p/b Cheez-its CX Tent. PACX doesn't seem to know about party tents yet, but we're going to teach. So far all the party we've had is a couple asking to park their baby under the tent, but it's a start.
The one downside to this plan was that the first PACX was this weekend, which seemed too damn early, but also a good chance to get an early grab at points. The entry numbers were probably about half of what we'd seen on the results of last year's series, but I believe that this is only the second season and the first time starting this early.

The fourteen women signed up for the 3/4 race proved to be enough for me. had me predicted as fourth, so I had hopes of slightly exceeding their expectations and possible getting my first (earned) podium in three years. As it turns out, I'm either in worse shape than my Tuesday mountain climbs imply, or the fact that I was able to get not last in a few OVCX women's elite races last year garnered me better points than mid-pack finishes in 3/4 races in PA.

Regardless, I went out hard like I belonged at the front of the pack, only to discover that I couldn't maintain that pace in the blazing heat. The only action that happened after the first lap was that I passed one girl who went out even harder than me and then died even harder than me, and was passed by a girl who seemingly went out slow and took advantage of everyone's melting in the end. I ended up eighth out of fourteen, which was disappointing, but at least it gave me a marker for where I stand. I have something besides "not last" to work for now, and I'm sure that I'll improve as the weather cools down and we hopefully get to race on some courses that better fit my skill set.

Monday, August 25, 2014

THE International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross Team Relay Championship of the Multi-Friggin-Verse

I can’t remember a summer that I wasn't in a hurry for it to end. As an only child in rural Oklahoma, summer just meant three long months of having to stay at some babysitter’s house parked in front of the TV or forced outside in the 100 degree heat with other children of varying ages to entertain ourselves. At least the return of school meant seeing my friends on a daily basis and having something to do, and once I turned 16, it meant not having to have a job. As a college runner, summer was our off-season, which ideally it was the time to rebuild with lots of base miles for cross country season in the fall, but for me, slogging through all those miles in the heat usually just resulted in my body being too destroyed to actually compete when fall came.

Then I became a mountain bike and cyclocross racer. Summer always sounds good in the middle of winter. Rather than slogging away my base miles in the heat of summer, as a cyclist, I put on my lobster gloves and trudge through cold and slush, dreaming of the mountain bike races that I have planned for the spring and summer. That magical first day sometime in March when the trails are dry enough to ride comes and goes, the spring races pass, I race the first couple ofcross country races of the year, and I am over my mountain bike by the time the trails become dusty in July. Before I’d even experienced my first ‘cross race, I couldn’t wait for mountain bike season to be over so that I could. It’s pretty much been that way for every summer since.

So as someone who has internalized “Winter is coming.” as well as any member of House Stark, it is odd to find myself wishing that this summer wouldn’t end. I just have too much unfinished business on the mountain bike. Rather than giving up when things didn’t go my way this summer, I’ve kept trying and made what progress I could. There are still a million rocks out there ready to be conquered and I’m not ready to be taken away from them.

Late August seems to have snuck up on me, anyway, since yesterday I found myself riding laps around the rough ground of a farm while I relearned what ‘cross felt like. The occasion was no less than THE International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross Team Relay Championship of the Multi-Friggin-Verse, in which I competed along with Frank and two of his Penn State teammates as “Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem”. SPOILER: We got eighth, so we were pretty happy with our intergalactic ranking.

Each of us rotated laps for four hours, ending with five each for Sean, Sasha, and myself. We were joking while Frank was out on a lap without about 45 minutes before the cutoff that we would make it through the rotation exactly one minute before the cutoff and force Frank to go out for number six. Sean said that Frank would be mad, but “good mad”. We didn’t really think it would happen, but it he did end up having to go out for a final lap less than a minute before the cutoff. He wasn’t exactly pleased about that, but we wouldn’t be the eighth best cyclocross relay team in the multi-friggin-verse without his effort.

My favorite part of the day was the slip-n-slide shortcut. There was a steep run-up section with double barriers, which I was of course dreading after my practice lap. I was also a little confused by the kiddie pools and slip-n-slide in what appeared to be the pit area. Luckily, at the start they announced the option to rack your bike at the bottom of the hill, run up of the hill bike-and-barriers-free, slip-n-slide to the bottom, then continue on at the bottom of the twisty descent after the run-up. So basically, wins all around. A few “serious” people tried to stick to the “real” course, but there were plenty of hecklers available with squirt guns and hoses to make sure they still didn’t stay dry for their efforts.

Since I’ve been busy pretending that ‘cross isn’t coming, this race was a good transition for me. I was the second leg on our team, so the field was already spread out enough by the time I started riding that there wasn’t really anyone for me to race against. For the most part I was just time-trialing, except for my second lap where there was a girl who started just far enough ahead of me that I was able to slowly reel her in throughout the lap. That was nice, but it was it was also good just to have a chance to get used to going hard on the ‘cross bike without having to subject myself to that screaming pain that comes from that first time out on a real course against competition each season.

I’m still wishing that I had a couple more months to focus just on mountain biking before winter comes, and I’m still sad that ‘cross season no longer means OVCX, but the season is upon us, and I guess that I’ve got to make hay while the sun shines. Or more accurately ride over cut hayfields while it rains. As much as I’m against the “all people with vaginas and no UCI licenses are the same” category system on the East Coast, it will hopefully do my little sandbagging soul some good to be ranked smack in the middle of a 50-ish deep women’s 3/4 field. If my Tuesday night mountain climbing has taught me anything, it is that I can still make myself ride really freakin’ hard when I have an achievable marker to chase, and that’s something that I’ve been missing for a couple of years now. So I guess it’s time to say goodbye to summer, but hope to keep the heat of it in my belly through the fall.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


As many of you know, in January 2013 I transitioned this blog from a failed attempt to document my rise to cycling stardom to a tool for Internet accountability in my journey toward a happier life that hopefully still included some cycling success, even if stardom was pretty much off the table. A big part of this has been a commitment to being as honest as possible about what’s really going on in my life. The helpful thing about making my struggles public is that it forces me to process things in such a way that allows me to write something that is authentic but spun in a positive enough light that it hopefully doesn’t just come out as the rantings of a crazy person.

 I put what I hope to be a realistic depiction of the internal and external work that I’ve been doing in a public place and hope that those who choose to read it do so out of support or at least neutral curiosity. For the most part, I have been surprised at the positive reaction that I have received, and I only know of one incident where someone used my words out-of-context in a malicious manner against me. It was a reminder to not get too comfortable in my writing, because not everyone reads with positive intentions, but overall I feel like the process has been helpful to me.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about when expressing negativity is useful and when it is not. An acquaintance on Facebook has also been doing his own sort of Internet accountability self-improvement project where he posts monthly updates about his progress in various areas, one of which is not engaging in negative posting. I never saw anything explaining the specific reason why this was one of the areas in which he wanted to improve, but I can definitely understand why one might decide to make such a goal for themselves. There’s plenty of research that shows that focusing on negativity only generates more of it.

So when deciding what to post about my life, I too have been trying to focus on the positive things of which I’ve had many in the past few months. I have a great relationship, a great job, and I live in a beautiful town with access to tons of great riding. However, I’m still struggling in many areas. In some ways, I feel like the depression that I was experiencing before I began this journey has come back in full force, but that I’m just better equipped to deal with it than I was before. Making all the changes didn’t fix the hole inside me; it only put me in an environment that is more conducive to healing.

Coming to that realization was disappointing, although not altogether surprising. I’m not sure at which point during the past two years I realized that fixing my circumstances wouldn’t fix me, but I kind of already knew it before I moved here. Now is the time at which I face the fact that my circumstances don’t cause my depression, my mind does.

That is where the problem with honesty versus negativity comes in. What I seem to be discovering these days is that the depression with which I’ve struggled since I was in kindergarten is essentially my mind defaulting to the most negative interpretation of almost every situation. I’m not sure if it’s my genes, my physiology, or just a coping strategy that I learned when I was too young to remember, but I do know now that it is such an essential part of my cognitive wiring that I didn’t even know it was happening until a few months ago. Until I made that realization, I took what my brain was telling me to be the truth, so honesty and negativity were often the same. However, I’ve learned that honesty and truth are not the same thing if the information my brain is giving me is incorrect, or at least incomplete.

In my previous worldview, there were basically three kinds of people: those that were lucky enough to have all the things they wanted and needed in life, those that were tough enough to get by without the things that they were missing, and weak people like me, who weren’t strong enough to tolerate their circumstances. As I got to know Frank and worked with my therapist back in Bloomington, I realized that there is in fact a category of people that are neither lucky nor tough. At least they are not lucky in the sense of having everything they want or need; they are lucky to have brains that don’t perceive unhappy feelings or circumstances to be as distressing as my brain does. It’s not that they have an incredible ability to HTFU; it’s that they just don’t need to do so that often because don’t spend their lives fighting the dragons in their own head and can save their reserve of toughness for actual crises.

Frank is one of these magical people, and most days it blows my mind. The thing is that, despite his recently acquired wizard status, it isn’t actually magic. He’s lucky in the fact that he was born with or at least grew up with healthy brain wiring, but supposedly even unhealthy brains like mine can be rewired if they are continually challenged with alternative versions of the negative “truth” that they like present. It’s not so easy as just “focusing on the positive”, because it’s hard to make yourself truly believe information that conflicts with what your brain is telling you, but I suppose that’s where one has to start. Living with a person like him helps, because he has a higher opinion of me than I do of myself. Rather than judging me as weak for having a harder time with everyday life than him, he is proud of me for doing my best, even when the dragons get the better of me.

I don’t want to gloss over the fact that I’m still struggling with depression by only telling you good things about my life, but at the same time I don’t want to feed the dragons by reporting their incomplete or inaccurate version of the truth. With that in mind I will continue to be as honest as I can in my posting, but I will strive to apply some more rigorous fact-checking to my reports.

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Boyfriend's a Wizard

This week's post is going to be a quickie, mostly just to keep up the Monday Internet accountability thing. I've been working on something more substantial in my head for a couple of weeks now, so hopefully I will get it written out and published later in the week.

My training week had ups and downs, figuratively and literally. The figurative and literal up was that I graduated to climbing both sides of the mountain on Tuesday instead of just going up the close side and back down. I'm feeling strangely confident in my road climbing skills, which is supposed to be my weakness. At the same time, the mountain bike ride that I was able to sneak away for on Saturday morning was a disappointment. I continue to see very little improvement in my off-road riding. Basically, it feels less awful than it did a month ago, but my speed still isn't improving much.

Of course, the big event of the weekend was Frank's graduation. He really, really has a Ph.d. now, as well as the wizard costume to prove it. His parents were here for the whole weekend, so hanging out with them took priority over riding, although my snuck-in mountain bike ride on Saturday morning mostly garnered him some heckles from his dad about my being a more dedicated rider than him. Oh well, he's a better son.

Anyway, it was nice getting to spend time with them and get to know them better. And, of course, I'm super proud of Frank for what he's accomplished. Now it's time to begin in earnest his year of post-doc teaching while we wait to see what the future holds. It's also almost time to distract ourselves with some 'cross racing while we wait. We will be kicking off our season next Sunday at THE International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross Team Relay Championship of the Multi-Friggin-Verse. I hope it's less bloody than my relay cross experience in Chicago last summer!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hipster's Paradise

Last week I was able to put together another pretty solid training week in the first five days. I got in both of my weight workouts, my Tuesday mountain climb, my Wednesday recovery ride, and took off work on Friday to mountain bike, since we would be in NYC for the weekend. The mountain climb went well, and I set another 2.5 minute PR. The mountain bike ride was not as great, since I was pretty worn out, and I still haven’t fully adjusted back to the weight training yet.

 I realized that the reason that I can still climb well tired versus mountain biking tired, is the matter of smashing your tired meat stick legs up and down while mountain biking requires a lot more fine motor skills that don’t work so well when both your legs and supportive muscles are fried. So I basically just did one lap of the “cross country loop”, which is the first singletrack loop of the Trailmix and called it a day. I did set PRs on every single segment I rode, but that was only because I hadn't ridden those trails since early June when I was in really, really bad shape. It was still tough trying to ride well, and I was not as fast as I’d hoped to be.

 Still, I can see that I’m making progress, albeit slow, and I feel like I’m starting to figure out what works for me in my current lifestyle and for mountain-bike-focused training. I wasted too much time trying to fit my mountain bike training in a model that worked for a gravel-racing focus in the past. Unfortunately, mountain biking, especially here, is a much bigger strain on the body than gravel riding, and I didn't account for that. Luckily, I think I've learned what works, but it’s just a bummer that I’m only hitting my stride with less than four weeks left until cyclocross. Then I have to figure out how that will fit into the plan, as well.

Since I had plenty of warning that we would be out of town and unable to ride this weekend, I didn't mind burning myself to a crisp beforehand. We spent the weekend in Brooklyn with Frank’s best from high school and her husband. I’d never been to New York before, but we still had a not very touristy visit. Or maybe we did.

Since amateur research of hipster culture is a bit of a hobby of mine, visiting shops and bars in Williamsburg and Red Hook were my kind of tourism. We were supposed to go to a free concert on Saturday night, but it filled up way faster than we expected. We ended up playing a couple of rounds at a recently-opened shuffleboard hall right before things got overly busy there, and that was pretty perfect. Frank and I also won both games, which didn't hurt.

Of course, I’m paying the price today for the weekend’s debauchery, as running around the city in the heat, eating out and drinking, and sleeping on an air mattress are not good recovery techniques when you’re already exhausted from training. But right now I’m just doing my best to fulfill both my training and social obligations and not get too stressed about my shortcomings or the things standing in my way. (Possibly another forced off-the-bike weekend coming up.) As I said a couple of weeks ago, I've just got to keep chipping away at the crack at the wall with my tiny hammer, and not let myself start beating my head instead.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Highlands and Valleys

During the last week, I did continue to chip away at the brick wall that is standing between myself the level of fitness at which I want to be, although I still haven’t managed to create any major fault lines yet.

 I did resume weight training with which I’ve not been consistent since I moved here, having my last drop off after Sarah and Josh’s wedding. In some ways it feels futile, because it feels detrimental in the short term. However, I’ve seen its benefits in the past, and I truly believe that if I can string together a few weeks of no missed sessions, it will start making me faster.

 We also continued with Week #2 of our Tuesday Night Mountain Climb plan. Of course, it only became that last week. Two weeks ago, it was merely my desire to expand beyond the easy, flat out-and-back road rides that we’d been doing a couple of nights a week, so I said we should climb to the top of the first major ridge outside of town. It is about the same distance we’d been doing, but obviously harder. Once we’d done it the first time and established a marker, I came up with a plan to do it every Tuesday night and eventually start going down the other side, which is harder, and back up that as well. Last week’s climb actually went really well, as I went six minutes faster, even with some fresh weight training in my legs.

 I made through our intramural softball game on Wednesday and Thursday’s weight workout and realized that I was pretty sure that it was the first time since I moved here that I made it to Thursday night without suffering from complete exhaustion. My team at work was in the midst of a crazy transitional period when I started, and during the last month we’ve finally gotten past that and into a maintenance/enhancement phase. That means that my work is a little more predictable and more focused on what I’m good at, as opposed to just doing whatever people need help with. I think that’s helped with both my anxiety and exhaustion a lot. So I was really starting to feel like I might actually break through the wall at some point, although I still have a lot work do.

Unfortunately, my main mountain bike ride of the week was kind of a bummer. I actually started out feeling better than I have at the beginning of a ride in weeks. Unfortunately, the crappy feeling came back with a vengeance about an hour into the ride, but I still stuck it out and got in three (slow) hours before packing it in. My road ride Sunday was a little better, and I felt okay with capping off a pretty solid week. The fatigue is starting to catch up with me today, but I’m really hoping to hold it together through Friday. After that I’ll be on a bike-free weekend in NYC during which I’ll hopefully recover for the next round.

One fun fact of the weekend was that we saw Highland cattle on two different occasions this weekend. The first was a group we always see on the way to and from Cooper’s Gap, but we finally stopped to take a picture. Then on Sunday, we did a new-to-me road route on which we discovered a different group of Highland cattle lived. This group was much more impressive, and contained the first black one that I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, someone came out of the house as soon as we stopped to look, so we didn’t get any pictures.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Tiny Hammer

I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was wreck me
Yeah, you, you wreck me

For those first promising 2-3 weeks of mountain biking in State College, it seemed like I was on a nice trajectory out of the disrepair into which my fitness had fallen during the stressful transition into moving here. Then a bunch of stuff happened: work conference, furniture move, crazy junk food fueled working weekend during our software upgrade, the cold from hell and its lingering life-sucking effects, shoulder and hip pain from my not-so-ergonomic desk at work, and various other social obligations. For nearly three months now, I’ve never managed to make more than a week’s worth of forward progress before something happened to set it back again.

It hasn’t really taken much to get off-track, as I haven’t ever gotten the chance to get that solid foundation of seeing real progress that I’m highly-motivated to keep up in the face of adversity. Things always feel incredibly shitty when you’re trying to get back into a positive routine, but I haven’t yet made it to the point where I start to get past the shittiness and start to feel good again. The fact that my ability to physically recover seems to have tanked since moving here doesn’t help; is 33 really that much older than 32 was? It’s just shitty white-knuckling, interruption, regression, repeat.

This summer has been metaphorical exercise in trying to tear down a brick wall with a childrens’ toy hammer. When I first started to see what I was up against, I thought the answer was to maybe walk away and let erosion work on the wall for a while, or hope that maybe someone would leave me a bigger hammer to work with while I wasn’t looking. Instead, every time I come back to the wall, I find that someone has filled in any minor chips that I was able to make before and maybe even added another layer of protective coating. Then I have to just start smacking again with my tiny hammer just to get back to the pathetic place I was before.

One good thing we did do this week is implement the Tuesday Night Mountain Climb, which I only regret not doing sooner. It's a really effective workout for relatively little time or mental effort.

So a couple of weeks ago, I noticed this pattern and started to get pretty pissed about it. I also got pretty pissed at anything that was keeping me from improving it. Hammering away at the wall with my tiny hammer feels terrible, but letting the wall stand is also not an option. For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying really hard to stop being that lame-o person who puts training over social connection, but I started to get stressed out and panicky about how I just wanted to make a noticeable dent in that fucking wall, and that I kept being asked to do other things instead.

I didn’t get that far into resolving those two conflicting desires, but on Thursday I was so anxious and depressed that it seemed like I forgotten to use my tiny hammer and had simply started beating the wall with my head. So I decided that I should stop hammering with my head, and spend the evening focused on cheering myself up and, you know, not being an asshole to my boyfriend. So instead of dragging my exhausted, ragey butt to the gym, we went out to play mini golf, which lead to restaurant food and beer. It also lead to me feeling and acting less like an asshole. So the real task here is to figure out a way to hold on to my tiny hammer tight enough to keep chipping away at the wall, but not so much that it makes me angry at everything. I also need to find a way to cheer myself up that minimizes backsliding on what progress I do make, which was more the point of my last post than anything that actually had to do with cooking.

So after calming myself down a bit, I made what I felt like was the imperfect but best choice under the circumstances for the weekend. The biggest factor in my panic was that Frank’s aunt was coming to visit, and wanted to leave for New York very early Saturday morning, ride the Brooklyn Bridge, and then spend the night in NYC. I’ve obviously turned into a much better traveler than I’ve been the past, but it still takes a lot out of me, and I feel like I’ve gotten not nearly enough home time since moving to State College. I also didn’t want to miss another weekend of mountain biking; since the weekend before had felt so awful, I wanted to give myself a chance to crack the wall a bit more instead of coming back in two weeks to a newly impenetrable surface at which I would once again have to start chipping away.

When I considered skipping the trip, and there was something uniquely upsetting about my first time voluntarily doing something separately from Frank. I guess a little part of me believes that it’s a slippery slope from choosing to do one thing apart from him to regressing to a relationship where carpooling to races together is the closest thing to intimacy. I was also stressed about family politics and whatnot, so even when I made the decision not to go, it didn’t give me much relief.

I learned that if you make it to the top of the Peep Trail and still have the energy to keep going up the road, you land on this nifty trail where you can take a (solo) #scenicvistaselfie while standing right in the middle of #eastcoastrocks.

It’s too soon to say whether I made the right decision or not, as I still don’t really feel that good about it general, but I do feel really good about the ride that I got in at Cooper’s Gap on Saturday instead. I was still ridiculously slow, but at least it felt like I had a little more to give and was merely metering my effort for what I knew was coming on the Peep climb. It paid off, too, as I made to the final rock-covered 25 meters without the soul-crushing exhaustion I felt last weekend. I still didn’t have enough energy to monster-truck the rocks on top of that, but I got closer at least.

So now I’ve made cracks in the wall two weekends in a row. It still feels pretty terrible, but at least I can see them forming. The next couple of weeks should be a little less daunting as far as making progress goes. I think the important thing I need to focus on is to keep hitting away with the tiny hammer even though it’s no fun, but not drive myself to the point of hitting with my head. Hitting with my head is bad, mmmkay? For now, I have to work with what I have and hope for the best, but I’m adding “bigger hammer” to my Amazon wish list just in case.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Zorro Circle, Part I

Last week was rough for me. I got really down on myself for continuing the general backward trend in my weight and fitness since moving to State College, the number of obstacles that would make reversing that trend in the near future extremely difficult, and feeling like I had to choose between either letting myself down or letting Frank down because it was becoming pretty obvious that I was failing at doing it all. I know that trying to find solutions from a place of negativity is probably not going to be successful, so in planning this week’s post I was trying to figure out a way to make it something besides just whining. So I just started typing, and what came out was a very specific story about developing successful coping mechanisms, so I think is what I will limit my scope to today. Maybe this is the Zorro Circle in which I should start digging my way back out, and this week will require multiple posts.


One thing that really turned the tide for me when I was getting my binge eating under control in the fall of 2012 was to simply make not binge eating my number one priority. I know this sounds silly in its simplicity, since I’d been unsuccessfully trying to kick the habit for over ten years, but I realized that the biggest driver of my binge eating was the need for relief, usually during a bad day at work. So the fantasy of binge eating would get me through the afternoon, and when I got out of work, I felt obligated to act on the fantasy I’d had all afternoon. Then I figured out how to get past the window where the need to act was so acute and that if I could get home without buying food to binge on, I could also let go of the stress that was triggering my urge to binge once I was safe at home. Part of making home “safe” was letting go of the notion that cooking a full healthy dinner from scratch or eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and half a box of Cheez-Its were the only two options.

 On the worst days, it was good enough just to eat something tasty and easy that would keep me from being hungry until breakfast. It didn’t have to be super nutritious, just not harmful or something that would trigger cravings. When I was first breaking the habit, there were a lot of days that I just dumped almond butter on top of a cut up banana and then turned my brain off for the rest of the evening. Working out or cooking real dinner were considered bonuses until I got the bingeing under control, but as I grew stronger, I managed to do both of those things more and more often until both my body composition and fitness were the best that they’d been since my college running days.

Now that my living situation has changed and I have to learn new coping mechanisms. I no longer have a two-hour window in which to binge eat, then hide the evidence before my significant other returns to judge me, so coming home to another person at home who is thankfully non-judgy but in front of whom I’m still too embarrassed to down massive quantities of junk food is an automatic stop my binge eating in the traditional sense. However, relief doesn’t come so easily for me now that I have another person depending on me for dinner, and an almond butter covered banana won’t do. Therefore, I’ve found myself saying, “Let’s just go out” way too often since moving to State College, which might not quite be as bad for me as binge eating, but at the frequency it’s been taking place is doing nothing positive for my weight, health, or my ability to deal with stress. I actually enjoy cooking a lot, especially when I’m doing it for someone I love and not just feed myself. When my love guru Sarah Fredrickson tasked me with making a list of must-have qualities in my future mate, “Not vegetarian or vegan; preferably enjoys when I cooked big-ass steaks for him” was near the top of the list. However, some days being a kitchen superstar is just too much pressure, so now I need to develop a new coping strategy that is something other than just saying, “Let’s go out.”

 I haven’t really found the answer yet, but I feel like talking through how I was able to figure it out in the past might help me find a new strategy now.


In riding news, we rode some new trails in the Cooper's Gap area that we hadn't done before. The Cooper's Gap Epic has now surpassed Raystown as the number one ride in Pennsylvania on the MTB Project, and now that I have seen the what the world outside Rothrock has to offer, I believe that is probably an accurate assessment.

Of course, we didn't finish the whole epic what with the still backsliding fitness and all, and the climbing was pretty much killing my soul. However, all the rest breaks did allow me to capture some good photo inspiration for the "Rocks and Rhododendrons" tattoo that I would like get sometime this winter when I've saved my dollars and found an artist that I trust with the task.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Don't Crash the Bride

This weekend I made my first real return to Indiana since moving to State College, not counting the quick overnight trip to get my furniture. The occasion was the wedding of my friends Sarah and Josh at Brown County State Park, to which I've been looking forward ever since I moved.

It was just as fun as I hoped it would be. Luckily, no one crashed the bride at the "Don't Crash the Bride Ride", and it was a really fun, not overly serious wedding. It made me so happy to see Sarah and Josh finally tie the knot, as they are both such great people and go so well together. Witnessing the kind of relationship they had with each other was a big part of what gave me the courage to look for that kind of love for myself.

The leisurely contingent of the "Don't Crash the Bride Ride"
Photo Credit: Erin Baumgardt

I was also glad to see all of my other friends in person again, since I'd been missing my Indiana people really badly in the past few weeks. It's hard being away and feeling like it's just a matter of time before people forget you when your relationship dwindles to Facebook-only. Plus, I've been pretty busy at my new job and social media time has been greatly reduced. I know it's partially my own fault, as I don't pick up the phone and send "How you doing?" texts enough, but I feel the good parts of my life back in Indiana slipping away. Being able to reconnect with a bunch of different people over the weekend made me feel a lot better about things, although I still need to work on staying in touch and maybe even making some friends in State College.

Got to hang out with my favorite puppy, Lo. Yes, my hair is also purple.

The other big part of the trip for me was getting to ride BCSP again having spent three months riding the East Coast Gnar. It was especially interesting because BCSP was trending as the highest rated trail system in the country on the MTB Project a couple of weeks ago. Of course, since Raystown is the highest rated trail system in Pennsylvania, I knew such judgements couldn't really be trusted. When I left Indiana, I was so sad to be taken away from BCSP, but upon my return, I wondered if it was really as great as I remembered and were the hard parts as hard with my new-found gnar skills.


The answer is that, yes, having seen both ends of the spectrum of what Pennsylvania has to offer, Brown County is a really good trail system. You can go fast, but it's got enough stuff going on that it is not boring like Raystown. The "hard" parts are kind of funny, though, as it's weird riding trails that were designed to be hard as opposed to trails that just are hard naturally. That being said, I wasn't much more skilled on Walnut than I was before I moved. I'll monster truck over all the the rocks when there's room to fall, but my confidence is still not that great when I risk tipping over the side of a bench cut trail if I fail. We rode half of Schooner Trace, but it was just like I remembered it: just a lot of really purpose-built super hard obstacles on which you will fall off the side if you don't make it over smoothly. So I may have hated Rothrock the first time I rode it and couldn't believe I was trading Brown County for it at first, but now I would definitely take John Wert over Schooner any day.