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.