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.