Wednesday, April 18, 2018

(The end of) Winter is Coming

Sure, it snowed on and off most of the day yesterday, but weather aside, the first race of the West Virginia Enduro Series is a mere 11 days away. That means, ready or not, winter is almost over. Although this April has been much more challenging than normal, the snowy days are at least becoming more spread out and less severe. The weather hasn’t really allowed me to settle into a regular weekly training schedule yet, but a careful eye on the forecast and a newfound tolerance for mountain biking in 40-something degree temperatures has allowed me to do some good chunks of riding and use the remaining exceptionally crappy days for recovery.

A few days after my last post, I *finally* got a nice dry and snow-free mountain bike ride in, where I went out absolutely smashed my PR on Bald Knob Death Drop. I’ve had several other PRs since that first one, so finally have proof that I not only didn’t forget how to go fast, but somehow even got a little faster during a few months of little to no real mountain biking. It makes me think that the RipRow might actually be working.

I've been riding bikes lately, but I don't have any pictures to prove it. I did acquire this pretty dirt jumper since my last post, though.

Setting some new PRs was a nice boost of confidence that also motivated me to start “being a good athlete” again, as Frank and I call it. Yes, I’m regretting not spending the winter more effectively preparing my body to withstand the beating of a long, intense enduro season, but now I’m doing what I can achieve a smart buildup of fitness as the season progresses. Despite being faster at downhill segments, my endurance sucks right now and my body hurts more than it should after hard descents. I’m trying balance between descending practice and spending time on my strength and endurance so that I can hopefully keep improving for the whole season.

Now, with the first race so close, my brain is buzzing wondering what this season will bring. I’m feeling confident that I’m “better” this year, but I’m also not sure that will mean in terms of race results. There was still a decent sized gap between me and the most of the regular women’s expert racers at the end of the season, so even if I’ve improved, that could still mean some last places in my immediate future. The first race is at Timberline Resort, which was not on the schedule last year, so I really have no basis for comparison, either in how well I ride the stages or the time gap to the other racers. It’s a little weird not knowing how I will be able to tell if I did well or not at the first race, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I’m just excited to race again!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Drive South

I didn't say we wouldn't hurt anymore
That's how you learn; you just get burned
We don't have to feel like dirt anymore
Though love's not learned, baby it's our turn
We were always looking for true love
With our heads in the clouds
Just a little off course
But I left that motor running
Now if you're feeling down and out

Come on baby drive south
With the one you love
Come on baby drive south

It is now April 3, and I still have not accomplished a snow-free, full-speed downhill run in Rothrock in 2018. Looking at the forecast, I’m not sure when I will. I got a couple of decent 80-90% efforts with just a little patchy snow on Bald Knob Death Drop and New Laurel last week, so I got cocky and ended up skiing down Wildcat. While my clean, if a little slow, attempt at Death Drop on the first try of the year is a huge improvement in some aspects, there is still a nagging fear that I don’t know how to go fast anymore until I’ve actually proven to myself that I can. So far this year I haven’t yet had much of an opportunity to do so.

Shake and Bake

A couple of weeks ago, my need for a downhill fix became so great that Frank and I began plotting a trip to Windrock, since it is the only downhill park that I know of that is open year-round. We drove down to Maryville, TN on Friday and stayed at my old teammates Josh and Sarah’s place. Sadly, Sarah was out of town while we were there, but it was nice seeing Josh for the first time in a few years.

We went to Windrock on Saturday, and it absolutely lived up to its reputation of being incredibly steep. Although they theoretically have a couple of green trails on the map, they start about halfway up the mountain and the shuttle doesn’t stop there. Usually when we visit a new bike park, we just ride through the trails from easiest to hardest until we hit “too hard”, and then go back and redo the ones we liked the best. Although I would have preferred an easy warm-up, we didn’t want to risk wasting our limited riding time pedaling up to the greens only to find out they were boring easy and not fun easy. So we chose a blue from the main drop off point, and while it did turn out to be the easiest trail in the main trail section, “a Windrock blue” will now be my new euphemism for a decently hard enduro stage. For example, I might say “Wildcat is a Windrock blue.” This is a *slight* exaggeration, but not much.

They had three blue options, two that had a lot of steep ledgy stuff and Talladega, the super-fast “race track” run. Despite its NASCAR inspired name, it required railing of corners both left and right, sometimes back to back to back in a serpentine pattern down the steep grade. It also had many tabletop jumps that were a lot larger than anything I’d really seen on a bike park blue trail before. Although I came to Tennessee with a need for speed, Talladega proved to be a little too much for me in that area, and I didn't enjoy it that much. The two others were more “fun hard” and had a lot of sections that still scared me a bit in my current cobwebby state, but also helped me start loosening up and acclimating to steep and rough riding again.

We also got a chance to shuttle to the “Windmill Drop” at the very top of the mountain, which only has one main trail down that splits in a couple of places. We were a little tentative coming down because the people we talked to on the shuttle made it sound harder than it actually was, so we kept riding carefully and expecting something scary to pop up. There were a lot of steep shoots, but nothing that we don’t encounter in Rothrock. It was more just a greater density of steep, rocky stuff for a longer period of time than we were used to. I would have loved to have had another crack at it, but they don’t send many shuttles all the way to the top per day. Finally, we tried the black trail where the Pro GRT downhill course starts, but it was well beyond what we could safely ride blind at our current ability level, so we ended up walking a lot of it. Hopefully, we’ll get another shot sometime when we are less rusty.

On Sunday I woke up feeling like I’d done a hundred pistol squats using my right leg only. In a way, I kind of had. One of the things I’ve really been working on with the RipRow is my balance through my descending range of motion and not putting too much pressure on my rear leg, as well as getting comfortable with either foot forward. I guess I haven’t quite mastered that yet, since I my right leg took the brunt of every steep chute that I did on Saturday.

Frank got tips on the hot lines from a local at Baker Creek Preserve. We failed to get any pictures of either of us actually on a bike the whole time.

Luckily, Sunday’s plans were a little more Type I fun than Saturday’s. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday, and we got to experience a relatively uncrowded Baker Creek Preserve. Part of Knoxville’s “Urban Wilderness”, this park features three downhill-only trails with relatively gentle singletrack climbs back to the top. The trails are all different scales of flow/jump trails. The biggest one is “Devil’s Racetrack”, which apparently had some sizeable gap jumps until recently. They have filled them in and now they are just really big tabletops, so I was able to roll the whole thing safely but I wouldn’t really call it fun since I’m not very good at jumping yet. After we’d done all three, we went back and did the easiest a few more times because that’s where our jumping “fun zone” is at this time. I wish I had access to something like this more often, because I’m sure that with more regular practice I could work up to actually enjoying the big jumps.

Now we’re back in drizzly 40-something degree State College with the remnants of yet another snow storm melting off, which I’m hoping will happen in time to resume regular Wednesday rides tomorrow. I can’t say that this weekend did a lot to prove that I can still go fast, but I can definitely say that I’ve now had way more steeps and jumps practice this year than I’d had until way later in the summer last year. I just have to keep riding what I can in the conditions that I can and hope that fast will come back eventually.