Monday, April 28, 2014

Week #69: Clipping In

Just a week ago I explained my carefully-laid plan to (hopefully) be prepared for a sub-7 hour finish at the Stoopid 50 in June, which mostly revolved around hitting increasingly longer long rides in Rothrock every weekend. Then, of course, I failed to meet my checkpoint at the next opportunity. I was supposed to hit 24 miles on Saturday, but after an exhausting second week at my job, I came home completely uninspired to make dinner, and we ended up going out for a big BBQ feast on Friday night instead. I knew better than to finish my whole meal, but I did, and woke up Saturday morning feeling disgustingly stuffed and completely uninspired to ride. The ride turned into 5 or 6 miles instead.

I was frustrated because it was my last chance to do long ride for at least two weeks, but I also couldn't force myself through it not feeling well. I was also frustrated at the unexpected challenges that popped up, weakened my good decision-making skills, and left me ill-prepared to do what I needed to do.

Luckily we did get a pretty good ride in on Tussey Thursday night.
We have our work cut our for us there.

Before I left for State College, I was overwhelmed by the challenges that I would be facing in the coming weeks, and was focused on "the finish line" of my race to a happy, sustainable life with the man that I love. Incidentally, I was afraid that the finish line would move again, as it has so many times already, and now it seems like it might, although by just one more day. I may end up having to work on May 10 due to the big software upgrade at my new job, but on May 11, I should definitely get to wake up at approximately 9 a.m. in my own bed in an apartment occupied by only myself, Frank, and the kitties that we don't have to move out of for at least 15 months, then hopefully make up the 24 mile ride that I missed on Saturday.

Until then, a lot of gnar stands between myself and the finish line, as I type this from a hotel room in Orlando where I have been and will continue to be at the mercy of the conference caterers  and overly expensive restaurants until Thursday evening. (I scraped the insides out of a breakfast burrito for breakfast this morning because there was no plain meat or eggs to be had amongst the bajillion muffins, bagels, pastries, and cereals.) I'm feeling fat, swollen, and generally pretty terrible physically. It doesn't help that I didn't take as good of care of myself as I should have in the days prior to leaving. I also know how hard it will be get myself back on track since I'll only get one day to reset in State College before our whirlwind moving trip to Indiana. All I can think about is getting back into circumstances where the barriers to my getting lean, fit, and emotionally resilient again are more manageable

Obstacles between myself and my goals are a lot like rocks. There are big ones and little ones, but often the challenge lies in the number, how close they are together, or the angle at which they are set. The most frustrating thing is to come up to a long chute, get my foot knocked out of the pedal on the first obstacle, and then not have enough space to remount and clip in again, so I end up walking or scooting for a long time over stuff I could have ridden if I'd been clipped in on the approach. I definitely feel like my foot was knocked out of the pedal last week, and now I'm walking over a lot more rocks that I needed to.

At same time, each set of rocks I ride successfully makes the next seem easier, so there is value in overcoming obstacles. I can definitely look back and see how to doing things that were hard and scary last year made me better at handling stuff in general. One of my favorite song lyrics that has stuck with me the last few months is, "Now anything so easy, it might not make you weak, but it sure won't make me believe." I don't expect the rest of my life to be Green Valley, and I wouldn't even want it to be, but right now I really need space to straighten my jersey, drink some water, and get clipped in again before I have to handle any more rock gardens.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Week #68: Baby Steps

I have now completed my second week in Pennsylvania, which was vastly different than the first, as I started my new job. Everyone is very busy getting ready for a big upgrade of the software that we use (Talisma) on May 12, so I've mostly been shadowing and going to meetings as everyone frantically tests and discusses what's left to be done before the upgrade. I've been doing what I can to help out, and hopefully I'll be able to make some actual useful contributions soon. Overall, I am very impressed with the people, general resources, and level of organization here, so I think that things will be pretty good once I'm a better acclimated part of the team.

More focused riding equals fewer pictures, so all I have is this testament to how much we like green stuff.

Obviously the start of work cut down on the amount of mountain biking we could do compared to the week before. We had to miss Tuesday night, because the 80-degree temperatures of the day before turned to 30's and snow about the time that I got off work. I got to ride little bit of Tussey on Thursday night, but Frank's chain broke less than a mile in, so it was kind of a bummer for him.

On the weekend we worked on redoing a couple of the Trailmix sections that we had covered the week before and tried to do them faster now that we have our navigation down. We were successful and cut down about 30 minutes off of our previous best for each route. Now we need to start putting sections together for longer rides until we can do the full Trailmix route at once.

I've put together a loose schedule of our long rides every weekend for the next few weeks, culminating in a full Trailmix route two weeks before the actual Rothrock Trailmix and Stoopid 50 race weekend. Since both races are on the same weekend, we have to choose one. I really want to do the 50, but I've made a cutoff goal that we have to complete the Trailmix course in under five hours prior registration if we want to sign up for the 50. Otherwise, we will just do the Trailmix race and hope for a PR in that.

It's so much more motivating training for something where I can actually make checkpoints and see progress towards actual race performance, rather just following a theoretical plan and hoping that more more watts in a workout actually equal going faster in the race. This is probably another reason why I liked Death March training so much; my whole schedule was centered around hitting checkpoints leading up to the race and everything else was simply in support of that. It makes it a lot easier to decide to what you can and can't let go if you start to feel a little cooked.

Anyway, I'm not sure if we will meet out sub-5 hour checkpoint in time or not, but we're giving it our best shot. Our progress in the last week is a good sign. I can't wait to get the move over so that we can get settled in and more focused on trying to meet that goal.

Okay, we did stop for a #scenicvistaselfie on North Bear Meadows Rd. on Sunday. Coulda been 35 minutes faster.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Week #67: Rothrock 101

My first week of Pennsylvania riding is complete. It's felt a lot like Death March training on steroids, as we spend a lot of time looking at maps, and trying to figure out our route, and finally trying to navigate in real life what we've planned on a computer screen. Oh, but there's rocks, so many rocks, so there's a technical element on top of just putting in the miles and finding our way around.

The goal we are working towards is to complete the Rothrock Trailmix IMBA epic course. At first it sounds silly that our goal to is to simply finish a ride that is only slightly longer than a Cat 1 men's cross country race, but when you consider that those 36 miles contain the same amount of climbing as the beefed-up 62 miles of the 2013 Gravel Grovel with a few tons more rocks, you start to understand the challenge. When you actually start riding it in not great shape, you fully understand.

We've ridden five times in eight days since I've been here. The idea was that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday would be my weight training days, since those are the days that Frank has to teach in the afternoons. I only made it to the gym on Monday, while Wednesday and Friday became rest days in a feeble attempt to recover between rides. I guess I was asking a bit too much of my body to put in 13 hours of riding, the largest eight-day total I've had in at least two years, on really tough terrain, and still manage to keep up weight training, as well. I'm a complete hangry, exhausted ball of goo right now, but hopefully I'll adjust soon and be able to handle both a regular riding and lifting schedule, as I feel like the former could really benefit from the latter if I'm able to do both and still recover well.

Rocking the white jersey and sunburn, as it hit nearly 80 degrees today. 

Red= Sunday, Blue=Tuesday, Green=Saturday

Anyway, we broke up the Trailmix course into three sections. The red we road both last Sunday and today, with not a lot of improvement today, due to my compounded fatigue. Last Sunday I had no idea what I was doing, but at least I was fresh. Tuesday we hit the Tussey Ridge trail, which I had hiked but not ridden before and found pretty intimidating. The climb up was actually easier than I expected, although there are are still a few rock gardens that are way beyond my current skill level. However, it's pretty worth it once you're on top of the ridge, as there is a beautiful ribbon of of flat-ish open singletrack that allows you to see for miles due to a forest fire a few years ago. Unfortunately, our better-than-expected experience on Tussey was tempered by terrible rock strewn slog back on the John Wert trail, which is basically a 2.5 mile long rock garden. It's mostly flat, but you're churning over big chunky rocks almost every pedal stroke of the trail. It's not the kind of thing you want to deal with when you've already got some hard riding in your legs and just want to get home.

Top of Tussey

Saturday was our biggest ride yet, at a whopping 18 miles. This is the part where we tackled the "filler" of the course, having covered the two major singletrack loops earlier in the week. This loop consisted of 3-5 mile gravel road climbs followed by a mile or two of technical descent at the time. I tried to think of it as "enduro day", but the climbing definitely outweighed the descending. Doing that much climbing on a full-suspension mountain bike, even a locked-out one, is pretty rough, but I tried to tell myself that I need to aerobic training mixed in with the gnar-riding if I actually want to be in bike-rider shape again.

Returning to the scene of our very first #scenicvistaselfie. We did not have to climb Greenlee Rd. on 'cross bikes this time, but the back side of Greenlee, as well all the climbing that followed, made up for it.

Finally, we broke up our pursuit of the Rothrock Trailmix for a day on Thursday, as we got our first taste of Cooper's Gap, another "epic" trail system a little bit further southeast of the Trailmix group of trails but still with Rothrock State Forest. We attempted to do the Cooper's Gap Highlights ride, but as you can see from our "actual ride map" below, our navigation wasn't too great. It was a fun change of pace, though, as those trails are a little more tame than most of of what's in the Trailmix section, but they still have enough rocks to make it interesting.

So far I haven't found anything that even remotely qualifies as easy singletrack here, but as an interesting side note, when I went into Appalachian Outdoors to buy a new hydration pack on Friday, my cashier was fellow Bloomington transplant, Jean-Luc Serriere. He showed me a map where of there are supposedly 6,000 acres of a swoopy Midwestern-style trails within riding distance of downtown, but I guess they are just kind of a spiderweb and not well-marked. So we're a little intimidated about given those a try for fear of getting lost, but maybe we can get to them later in the summer when we tire of the gnar.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Week #66: Home On The Rocks

What seemed like the longest week ever has finally passed, and the kitties and I have arrived in Pennsylvania safely. They actually did better on the drive than I was expecting, and Mushu took to her new temporary home at a surprisingly rate. I guess after 10 years together, our seventh residence isn't too much of a shock. Plus, it has stairs and Frank, two of her favorite things. Clemmie, on the other hand, was kind of traumatized at first, but seems to be settling into her Badcat ways.

I'm feeling much better about things now that I'm finally here, and I have a week to chill out and adjust before starting my new job. I'm still anxious about that, as well as the "real move", but I think that while I was panicking last week, I underestimated the regenerative power of a week of relaxation and hanging out with Frank.

Why didn't I have this bike when I was on Velo Bella? It's perfect!
Of course, relaxation is relative, as my first order of business was to hit Rothrock and test out my new Giant Lust 2, aka Gnar Bike. The one time I rode the trails here before, it was miserable. So when I decided to move here, I knew that a full-suspension bike was in order to make the transition easier.

I expected the first ride out to still be exceptionally hard, but the bike actually seemed to give me some amazing powers. I'm still out of shape, so the ten miles of rough stuff with much longer, steeper, and obstacle-strewn climbing than anything in Indiana was still enough to leave my body feeling shredded. However, as far as being able to clear stuff, I was pretty amazed.

I've still got a lot of work to do to actually be good at this sort of riding. It's like having the hardest parts of the Ouachita Challenge and Syllamo's Revenge five miles from my house, without a lot of easy parts to break it up. However, the beauty of this is that I can take it a little at a time, knowing that I can come back and ride more in a couple of days. I actually had a ton of fun yesterday, when I sort of expected the first time out to be pure suckage until I got better. The fact that I could ride most of it the first time out is exciting. I dabbed a bunch, but there weren't a lot of long hike-a-bike sections for me. Now I just have to get the bike dialed in and start working up the two 50-mile races that I'm hoping to complete this summer.