Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Space to Grow

I remember when we broke up the first time 
Saying, "This is it, I've had enough," 'cause like 
We hadn't seen each other in a month 
When you said you needed space. (What?)

I couldn’t help but think of those words as Frank rode away from me yesterday afternoon, after a fair amount of encouragement from me. It was, of course, a bit over dramatic as we’re nowhere near breaking up as life or riding partners, and it the situation could better be described as “hadn’t ridden together in a week”. After further reflection, that wasn’t even true, since we did our last Tuesday recovery ride together, but last week felt so long that I’d already forgotten. The fact of the matter was that I was just feeling a little guilty that, despite the fact that circumstances already had us riding together less than usual, I still “needed space”.

Frank got a part-time job at the bike shop a few weeks ago, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Obviously the extra income and the discounts are good things, and since he is off from teaching for a couple of months, it will give him something to do while I’m at work. The downside, and the reason that I didn’t encourage him to do this sooner, is that working at a bike shop inevitably means working on weekends.

While under past circumstances that fact might have tipped more heavily into the plus column, as Saturday was my glorious day of “me time”, those were also the circumstances where a couple ride was more of an annual thing and even then was embarked upon with some degree of dread. Having swung in the complete opposite direction for the past two years, I think it just feels odd to for my on-and-off-the-bike-partner and me to be reestablishing our own cycling identities.

A couple that conquers together stays together.

In our relationship, I am the structured, Type-A, goal-oriented one, and he is the laid-back one that just likes bikes: riding them, buying them, selling them, and fixing them. From my perspective, it works out well, and I would hope that he would tell you the same. Two structured, goal-oriented people would likely result in conflicting goals and sacrificing time together in service to the grand plan. I won’t hazard a guess as to the fate of two laid-back people, because it’s too foreign for me to imagine. It might work out just fine.

In the case of Frank and myself, he pretty much goes along with my grand plan and it pushes him to ride and race more than he would on his own. I think that in this process, he’s found more motivation to reach his potential, and I’ve found that he is, in fact, a lot faster than me. We’re still not at the point where I feel like riding with me is holding him back or anything, but sometimes it’s hard to be dragging along suffering when the person you’re with is bopping along like it’s nothing, so I’ve taken to sending him off on his own if I’m not feeling too great. I guess misery only loves company if the company is also miserable.

As I mentioned before, we did do a short recovery ride together on Tuesday, and Wednesday is where we started to diverge. It was my long-scheduled first interval workout with my new power meter, but given the personality differences described above, he didn’t buy one along with me. We met at the Galbraith Gap parking lot after I got off work, and I proceeded with an okay but not great 8 x 30 seconds workout while he completed a climby loop of gravel. Thursday and Friday were our regularly scheduled weight and rest days respectively, and Saturday he worked at the bike shop. Not wanting to waste a nice day and good legs, I proceeded with my breakthrough workout of the week and improving my time on the Rothrock TrailMix short course loop by 13.5 minutes. That left me smashed for Sunday, so I just pedaled around super easy for an hour while I encouraged him to do a bit more on his fresher legs. I hoped to get in a bonus breakthrough workout in during the three-day weekend, but Monday found my legs still trashed. That is when I knew that I would be miserable and not wanting company, and I was proud of him when he decided to go do a big iconic climbing route that he hadn’t done since 2012 on his own. We both ended the day limping home in equally miserable states, but his was a bit better earned than mine.

While I love spending time with him, I’m glad that’s we’re both coming into our own a bit. I hope he never gets to the point that riding with me is a burden, but I love seeing his competitive side come out a bit. I also feel like I’m getting my confidence back by having the time and space to ride my best without worrying about being judged. I’m fully aware that this fear is just my projecting my own self-judgment onto him rather than him being critical, but it seems that being alone in the woods without a projection screen lets me put my energy into going faster instead of feeling bad about my lack of going fast. We’ll always be together at the end of day to tell each other of our adventures and to cheer each other on when the racing finally comes, so it’s probably a good thing for us to get a little space grow. We may even be ready to start seeing other people, at least in the cycling sense. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to replace the Speedway Wheel(wo)men, but I should probably try harder to find some Central PA girls to ride with.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Desert Gnar 2015: The Conquering

It’s been a busy couple of days since returning from our vacation in Grand Junction, CO, so I haven’t had a chance to post as quickly as I had hoped. That’s probably just as well, since I’ve now had a bit more time for the Type II fun to convert into fond memories. Let’s face it. All travel is Type II fun for me. For anything to truly be called a vacation in my mind, it would involve sleeping massive amounts of hours in my own bed, not having to go to work, and preferably not having to wear clothes that aren’t cycling kits or sweatpants the entire time. However, in the same way that Type II fun on the bike is required if you want to get better, life also requires a little uncomfortable fun if you want to progress beyond Cat 6. (Sometimes Cat 4 is even a stretch.)

With my levels of mental and physical well-being just starting to rebound from the tough winter as well as my depleted-but-improving fitness, I was very scared of getting in too deep riding-wise. Dustin and Corinna were excited were excited to show us all of what the Western Slope had to offer, and it was hard for me to ride the line of trying to not disappoint them but staying within a level of riding that was still enjoyable for me. Due to the travel stress and the unfamiliar territory, I just didn’t feel very much up to pushing my limits on the bike.

#scenicvistafrankie on the Pine Loop of Western Colorado

I managed to get away with this the first couple of days, keeping the ride volume down to a happy level but also feeling like I was ruining things for everyone else. Then on Sunday, Dustin got the idea to shuttle the rest of the group to the beginning of the Mag 7 ride because it was supposed to be super fun. His friend Jack was joining us and had ridden it a week before, I watched them huddling over a map in the living room discussing various exit points, and phrases like “From here, it’s a lot of conquering” and “the forgotten land” and “if I were in a Jeep…” were tossed about. There was also talk of exiting on Gemini Bridges Road before the conquering began.


The first half of the ride was ridiculously fun. It was flowy and mostly downhill, but not in a bombing, obvious way. There were just enough rocks for Princess Monster Truck (my Giant Lust) to feel like it was worth her time. I was even able to keep up with Frank and Jack for most of it after feeling horrible and being severely OTB on Friday and Saturday’s rides. Then we came to the proposed bailout, and my guilt over not my wussy-level limits the past couple of days overcame me. I agreed to conquer as long as I was allowed to conquer at my own pace without anyone babysitting me.

So conquer we did. The jeep road that followed was a mostly unbroken stretch of slickrock with very little dirt at all. It had tons of huge ledges and drops, as well as many steep climbs that quickly depleted me, even in my easiest gear. This was followed by a couple of very technical trails along the edge of a cliff, which had all of us walking more than riding, not wanting to risk a stupid crash in our fatigued state. All in all, it took over three hours to ride the cover the last 12 or so miles of the route, and it was probably the worst slog I’ve been the last time I finished the Ouachita Challenge.

Like I said, each day since then the Type II fun has started to convert. I’m glad we made the trip, and I’m glad I decided to do the whole ride on Sunday. Now that I’ve been through my first big airplane-assisted trip to the desert, I’ll know what to expect next time and be better prepared. For now, though, I’m pretty happy to be back on the #eastcoastrocks beneath fully-green trees. I can’t wait to get back out in Rothrock tomorrow where I know where my limits and exactly how much to push them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I've Got the Power!!!

When I saw the above image on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, I knew it would be perfect for an upcoming blog post, although it would still be a while before I could use it. As of yesterday, I can, because I have a functioning power meter for the first time in over two years.

Sometime in the winter of 2013 I decided that I was happy with the level of training consistency that I’d been putting in with my Death March training and that it was time to bump things up a bit by adding interval training back into the mix after having not done any in several months. When the attempt was made, I found that the head unit of my ancient wired Powertap was no longer functional and took it as a sign that I was not ready to start interval training for the year after all.

I was still pretty darn fit by spring, and while I made a few more attempts at heart-rate based intervals that year, I’ve obviously had a bigger priorities for the use of my money, time, and mental energy since then. Plus, once I moved to State College I was blessed with the ability to just go climb stuff when I needed to do threshold work, which in my opinion is better than staring at numbers on a screen, anyway.

Now that I’ve finally been able to put the resources into what is by far the nicest bike that I have ever owned and rededicated myself making it in whatever cyclocross series in which circumstance places me, I feel like it’s time to start putting some effort back into developing my top-end power again. My plan is still to leave weekends for climbing things/riding as much and as fast as my body will handle, then supplementing that with one very easy ride and one very intense interval session during the week. And, of course, maintaining a good Monday and Thursday weight training routine, because I find the extra strength extremely helpful when I do it consistently, although it can very much go the other way with extra fatigue if I start to let the routine slip.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, like the saying about diets, the most effective training plan is the one that you stick with. Right now I feel like throwing in some high intensity, low-volume interval work will give me the maximum payoff for the least amount of mental distress. Or it might just make for even more spectacular holeshot followed by second lap explosion combos come ‘cross season, but I guess time will tell. I plan to start with really seeing how hard I can go in 30 second intervals for a few sessions, then maximize the percentage that I can hold while increasing duration and volume each week through 1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, etc. It’s definitely an experiment, and the opposite of most traditional training periodization, but I want to see how it works. I bet it works better than not doing intervals as I have the last couple of years.

The plan will have to wait a couple of weeks, though, as we are leaving tomorrow for a few days of desert-gnar in Grand Junction, CO with Dustin and Corinna. So this mid-week blogging thing is actually working out pretty well at the moment, as I should return next Wednesday with lots of stories and pictures.

Also my engagement ring finally arrived yesterday. I feel like things have dragged out a bit, and was worried that everyone would be sick of hearing about it by the time I finally got to wear it. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but the good news is that it’s finally here and it’s a perfectly “me” ring. I’ve been trying really hard to not do things based on what other people think, and instead do them because that’s what I really want, so I guess this is a good lesson. I really want to show off my ring, so I will.