Monday, March 20, 2017

Lousy Smarch Part 2: Lessons Learned

In my first post on how I’m dealing with this “Lousy Smarch” after the false spring of February, I discussed my commitment relearning my fundamental mountain bike skills correctly. While I get my shred house in order, I might be a little less focused on training from a fitness perspective. However, I still have a three-day stage race to complete at the end of May, so it’s not like I can let myself get out of shape.

Sadly, it seems like that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. In January, I had fully accepted winter and was laying a great foundation for spring, CBAPs and C-words be damned. In January, it’s easy to get into “this is my life now” mode in regard to wintery weather. Then February came and started letting in the “I deserve a break” thoughts, which quickly bled into “Winter is almost over, so I’ll just start mountain biking soon” thoughts. I guess I got in few sets of trainer intervals in February, but looking back on the month, it sort of feels like I was either doing 3+ hour mountain bike rides or “resting”. Then Lousy Smarch hit with its preclusion of further mountain biking, and I just kept “resting”.

Lately I have been struggling to get back on the right track sooner rather than later and resist the (very strong) urge to just sit in front of the TV until mountain-bike-able conditions come back. As I’m approaching the end of my third winter in State College, I’ve begun to look back and think about what I could have and should have done differently.

My first winter in State College was brutal, with extreme cold and snow pretty much the whole time and the trails not clearing until April. I also tried to doing all my training on the road, which was extra cold, because the gravel roads were too icy to traverse on a ‘cross bike. The next year I tried to mitigate this by purchasing a fat bike, and ironically, that winter turned out to be very mild. The new bike purchase also made me very keen to try fat bike racing, and while doing long, hard races in January and February kept me very motivated through the winter, I felt like it wasn’t the best for me in some ways. Because I was trying really hard at really hard races so early in the year with no base, I wasn’t able to do much except race and rest, plus traveling to New Jersey so often wasn’t that great. I thought that I would be better off staying home this winter and getting quality weight training and intervals in during the week while maintaining my endurance with easier long rides closer to home.

And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t those meddling kids…



Okay, okay, it was mostly my meddling brain telling me that whatever I had planned was too much and that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

I will begin by saying that there is no way to make winter training completely not suck. You can definitely employ strategies to mitigate the suck (warm gloves, warm shoes, fat bikes, etc.), but you cannot eliminate it completely. I think that everyone has to find their own comfort zone between strategies to mitigate the suck and strategies to embrace it. Some people develop high tolerances for indoor riding, while others will ride outside no matter how bad the weather is. I, for one, absolutely hate riding in the dark, so since moving to Pennsylvania, I’ve accepted that any weeknight ride will be indoors.

Of course, I also try to skew my training plans to minimize weeknight riding by spending most weeknights in the weight room and only doing a couple of quick, “get in, get out, get it done” interval sessions per week. I do my best to follow a polarized training philosophy with short intensity during the week and making up my volume on the weekends. It’s a great idea in theory, but where I failed was trying to go too intense on weekdays and not being motivated enough for long, boring, cold outdoor rides on weekends with no immediate races to keep me focused.

I think I found the answer to my indoor training problem, but it just came a little too late for this winter. Along with all of the skills tips available on the Lee Likes Bikes Online MTB School, there is also a very reasonable 12-week “Pump Up the Base” training plan which features two manageable-length, manageable-intensity indoor workouts a week. It seems to fit my mental and physical capacity for indoor training, and fits my own philosophy of leaving plenty of time for strength training and skills instead of just grinding the trainer all winter. I went ahead and started the program a couple of weeks ago, and I figure I’ll keep it up until the weather is actually pleasant for outdoor post-work intervals. Obviously, I won’t finish the whole 12-week program, but I figure I’ll pump up my base as much as I can in the remaining time before I switch to full-time outdoor training.

The other half of my polarized training fail from this winter goes back to finding the balance between mitigating and embracing the suck. For me, riding longer than an hour and a half is just not fun unless it’s above 50 degrees and there is a significant amount of singletrack involved. Unfortunately, to be successful at long rides with singletrack in the spring, one must accept long rides without singletrack in the winter. I didn’t do very well at that this year, as I was always bargaining my way out of the long boring rides that I was dreading by driving Raystown (except that I only have a 2.5 hour tolerance of Raystown) or attempting to do six laps of Accuweather. The fact of the matter is that I should have stopped trying to mitigate the suck and just lowered the barrier to entry by getting on my fat bike, riding up the mountain to Keppler road, riding out for a couple of hours, and riding home. For future winters, I guess I just need to embrace the motto of “get out the door, get in the hours”.

Finally, I will end with the one happy lesson that I learned this winter:  Harrisonburg, VA is only four hours away and is mountain-bike-able pretty much the whole winter. Not that weekly trips down there would wear on my any less hard than trips to New Jersey, but I’m glad to know that there’s a place to run when winter (or Lousy Smarch) gets to be absolutely too much. I definitely plan to return there in the future, although maybe with my Camber instead of my Hail.

Luckily, it appears that there is a light at the end of the weather forecast tunnel, and I might even be able to get out on the ridge tomorrow after work. I’m having some regrets about not being in as good of shape as I could have been going into this mountain bike season, but I’ve officially done all that I can about those by leaving this note to my next-winter self. Now I must embrace the gnar to come instead of dwelling on the past.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lousy Smarch Part 1: #skillseveryday

When I wrote about the year of the false spring a couple of weeks ago, I knew that March would likely be disappointing following multiple short-sleeve mountain bike rides in February. However, this March has brought the crappy weather much worse than I expected, and my feeling can basically be summed up by this picture that friend recently shared on Facebook.


Despite mostly triumphing in the face of adversity in January, I apparently lost my resolve during February when it started to look like the rest of the winter might go easy on me. Lazy and depressed is the best descriptor of my disposition since that last lovely 70 degree ride a few weeks ago. It’s not the sad kind of depressed, as it can’t really be considered sad when winter is just being winter, but it’s more of an uninspired, “if I can’t mountain bike, I’d rather not move at all” kind of thing. Fat biking does not count as mountain biking, BTW.

Since I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, I spent a lot of Sunday’s half-hearted trudge around Accuweather writing blog posts in my head. The two positive-ish themes that emerged were recently embarked-upon #skillseveryday project, and the lessons that I’ve learned from my third winter in State College which will hopefully lead to a less-lousy Smarch next year. I think I will break this into a two-parter, one for each of those topics.

One thing for which I have been motivated lately is skills work, and luckily I can work on that without clear singletrack or multiple hours of daylight. It would sure help if the grass in the park near my house wasn’t covered in a foot of snow, though.

After my disappointing enduro racing debut last year, I made relearning to ride bikes the right way my #1 priority for this year. I had just been waiting on enough daylight to allow for daily outdoor practices. My original plan was to try and get in a short private lesson with Harlan Price every 4-6 weeks throughout the season to help my progression, but it turned out that he would be away from Harrisonburg for most of February and March. He’ll be coming to State College in late April, so Frank and I have a half-day session scheduled with him then, but I needed to get to work sooner than that.

I had a discount code for 30% off a month membership for The Lee Likes Bikes Online MTB School, so I decided to give it a shot. I mean, my ability to pay my bills and purchase N+1 bikes depends on belief in the efficacy of online education, and it was obviously a lot less expensive than a bunch of private lessons. It probably didn’t hurt that it came with the endorsement of the queen of commitment-to-the-journey, and my favorite bike philosopher, Syd Schulz. Sure, she does also make pilgrimages to Boulder for private lessons with Lee, as well, but I figured it was worth a shot to see how much I could improve using park drills and strangers’ criticisms of my poorly-lit iPhone videos. I really only got into this last week, so it’s hard to judge my progress yet. I’ve mostly just collected a lot of video of my hip hinge movement both off and on the bike in the hope that I’ll relearn better body position and balance by the time the weather does let allow for singletrack riding again.


Additionally, the 20-something degree temperatures over the weekend combined with the need for creative thinking when it came to skills practice, Frank and I headed to The Wheel Mill in Pittsburgh for the first time in two years. The lesson that we learned last time, was that full-suspension XC bikes with clipless pedals are the not the best rigs for riding there. Since they only charge $15 to rent a dirt jump bike, we opted to do that the second time around. The more-appropriate bike, along with more appropriate expectations, made for a more enjoyable experience this time. There was still a lot of stuff that I didn’t feel comfortable riding on a strange bike that for some reason I had a hard time lifting the front wheel on, but it was fun to play with all of the body position stuff that I’d been practicing on the pump track. My pumping action definitely needs a lot of work, but I admittedly haven’t made it that far into the Lee Likes Bikes site yet.

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Since we just had a foot of snow yesterday, outdoor bike practice is going to be a bit difficult for a while, singletrack or not. I’m going to keep practicing my hip hinges and try to think of creative ways to work on my skills indoors. In the next part of my Lousy Smarch series, I’ll cover what I’ve learned from my third winter of living in State College and what I hope to do differently in the future.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Weeks #7&8: The Year of the False Spring

The tourney at Harrenhal, also known as Lord Whent's great tournament, was held in 281 AC, the year of the false spring, at Harrenhal in the riverlands. It was hosted by Lord Walter Whent to celebrate the name day of his maiden daughter. Spread over ten days, it was the greatest tourney of its time. - A Wiki of Ice and Fire

With the weather regularly vacillating between 30 and 70 degrees this month, the phrase “the year of the false spring” keeps popping into my mind. Game of Thrones fans will know this as the year that there was the great tourney at Harrenhal, where a bunch of stuff went down, leading to the conception of many of the series’ main characters and all of the old grudges that are still simmering when Ned Stark leaves for King’s Landing in the first book/episode. As I prepare for the great tourney at Seven Mountains Boy Scout Camp (the TSE), I’m finding that this year of the false spring is presenting very little of the winter monotony that I was expecting to blog through in January.

Helping a new teammate practice her descending position

After migrating south to clear trails in Harrisonburg a couple of weeks ago, the local weather was kind enough to allow us to mountain bike right here at home a couple of times since then. The weekend after we went to Harrisonburg offered two days of sunny 60ish degree weather. Saturday of that weekend was spent in Philly helping out with a Team Laser Cats beginner women’s MTB ride, but on Sunday I got the opportunity to really put Brienne (my new Liv Hail, named for a character who had an entirely different fight at Harrenhal) through her paces on the TSE enduro course.

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We hit all of the stages except for Greenshoot, which I’ve ridden up many times, but have only gone down a couple. There’s nothing particularly difficult about it, although it will require some improvement in my cornering ability to truly go fast, but going fast on Greenshoot won’t matter until I’m much faster on the more technically difficult stages. Furthermore, after riding Croyle for the first time since it was redone in the fall, I’m also feeling like the resulting 30-40 minute climb back up Gettis isn’t really worth my time until I get a lot better on Sand Spring, Wildcat, and Old Laurel. The beauty of those trails is that once DST starts, I can get all of them into a single weeknight ride and concentrate on the longer TSE stages on the weekends. After several months away from these trails, new bike magic couldn’t counteract my rustiness or the thick layer of leaves that have fallen since the last time I was out there, so I’m looking forward to getting back to weekly practice and start progressing again.

Last week offered 60+ degree days on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but with the sun still setting at 6:00, that wasn’t super helpful for Wednesday and Thursday. Friday was the warmest day at 70 degrees, and I had no important meetings that day, so I took a vacation day and rode most of the Tussey stage of the TSE. It was a little crazy riding 4.5 hours of actual mountain biking in shorts and short sleeves in February, and it was kind of nice getting the harsh reminder of how hard it is early in the year rather than later. I was a lot slower than I was expecting, and quite the tired puppy by the time I was done, but I’m still far ahead of where I was in March last year. I can’t even compare it to any previous February, because before this month, I’ve only ever mountain biked in February once in my entire career. This year it has been five times already!

Given my objective to make big improvements this year in the skills realm, I was glad to finally get to do the things I’ve been imagining myself doing for months. Of course, things don’t necessarily play out in real life the way they have in your head all winter, and I was far from the smooth operator I’d been imagining once my wheel hit actual trail. At least now I have a couple of things that I know that I was doing wrong in the past that I can start attempting to do correctly now that I’m getting in trail time again. The first is that my “attack” position is more squatty than it should be and my butt is not actually as far back as I imagine it is. So now when I’m descending, I’m concentrating on hinging at the hips to get lower and further back, rather than bending my knees. I haven’t quite gotten comfortable with this yet, but I’m working on it. On Friday I noticed myself mentally saying, “booty like whoa” whenever I started to get into descending position. It was really silly, but served as a good reminder.

I’m also working on looking further down the trail and planning multiple moves ahead instead of just staring at what’s directly in front of my wheel. This seemed to help on John Wert until my brain got tired around the time I hit the really big rock gardens. I still have a lot of work to do there, but admittedly, I only rode that trail twice in all of 2016. I plan to spend a lot more time there this year, and in addition to speedier, cleaner descents, I also want to finally clean John Wert and Tussey Ridge both before the summer is over.

I know that the problem with false springs is that there are still several weeks left when it could still be cold and I really won’t really have any room to complain about March being March. We could even perceivably have more bad snow before spring has sprung for real, but I sure hope not. No more days on the trails aren’t guaranteed for quite some time, but the bug has bitten me, and I’m definitely hoping for more rides soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Week #6: Southbound and Pointed Down

Last week was full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.

It began with the arrival of my new Liv Hail 1, named Brienne the Beauty in keeping with my Game of Thrones themed mountain bike naming convention. I know you may be thinking, “Hail, what?”, since a few shorts months I devoted a three-post series to my pursuit of the ultimate Rothrock-worthy quiver killer. I still stand by my Specialized Camber 650b aka Tormund Giantsbane, as the best all-around bike for “Rothrock XC”, but the more I was able to push myself on bigger and scarier descents with Tormund’s help, the more I was struck with an ever-increasing case of big bike FOMO. Frank ended up buying a Camber of his own about a week after I bought mine, but kept his BMC Trailfox and would regularly remind me how much fun it was to just plow over stuff at full speed during our enduro rides. Even though I did find the single best all-around Rothrock bike in Tormund, “N+1” are the ever-resounding words of House Stec, so finally I was like…


Now I have an appropriate bike for trying out some bike park riding later in the summer, and if I still suck at enduro racing this season, at least I won’t be able to blame the bike. Tormund will still be my go to for the Tussey and Cooper’s Gap stages of the TSE, and Brienne will get the enduro stage in the middle.



The joy of my new big-girl beauty quickly turned to frustration mid-week when the previous week’s dump of snow had completely melted off by Wednesday and the temperature rose to a mountain-bikeable 50 degrees. But, you know, work. I probably should have had the forethought to “get sick” on Tuesday evening after pedaling Brienne to the local park in the rain and hucking her into the wood chip-covered drop into the playground a few times before dark. Then the temperature dropped and six inches of snow fell during the night on Wednesday. The weekend temperatures were predicted to be in the mid-to-upper 40’s, which would be just enough to turn the snow into a slushy mess but not actually clear it. Luckily, Frank pointed out that the weekend forecast for Harrisonburg, VA was 62 Saturday and 69 on Sunday. A call to a local bike shop confirmed that the trails were clear, and our weekend plans were set.

We had a bit of trouble planning our routes, since our bike choices favored non-technical and preferably not-too-steep climbs and technical descents. Not knowing the area at all, we had to rely on MTB Project suggested rides, which all seemed like 6-9 miles of climbing and then 6-9 miles of descending per loop. I guess their mountains are just bigger down there, but I think I prefer our 1-2 mile climbs and descents that allow you to fit a few runs per ride. Still, you take what you can get in February, so upon our arrival in the George Washington National Forest, we proceeded to climb the 8.5 paved miles to the top of Reddish Knob.

Our hardest-earned #scenicvistaselfie to date


For the descent that followed, imagine this video with less snow, more mud, and the riders arriving at the windy, overcast top sweating in their shorts and short sleeves from grinding their 30 pound bikes up for over an hour and a half, then getting hypothermic.

Stokesville from Salsa Cycles on Vimeo.

Needless to say, I didn’t look that cool bumbling through the first section of singletrack with my numb hands and bike that I hadn’t quite learned how to handle. “Big floppy bike!” became the rallying cry for the weekend every time I went off line in a slow rocky section. Bri was definitely made for high-speed plowing, not low-speed finesse. Sadly, we didn’t get as much of the latter as we had hoped, because we took a wrong turn shortly after getting to the actual good downhill singletrack and ended up at the road we had originally climbed up instead of the good descent we were supposed to go down. The good news was that we weren’t really lost or far from the car, but the bad news was that the 3-mile paved coast back to the car wasn’t the reward we were hoping for when we set out on our 8.5 mile climb. With less than an hour before sunset, we resigned ourselves to getting dinner and beer earlier than planned and hoped for better navigation on Sunday.

Sunday’s ride was more successful navigation-wise, but even less Big Floppy Bike appropriate. First we rode the Lookout Mountain Loop, which only had 7.5 miles of mixed pavement and gravel climbing before some rolling, rocky benchcut, and finally a mostly-sustained descent at the end.

We then jumped in the car and headed a few miles down the road for the Narrowback Loop, which was very obviously not Big Floppy Bike appropriate, but it was highly rated and looked like a relatively easy way to get a couple more hours of riding in before we headed home. It was actually a pretty fun loop, although it might have been more so on the Cambers. It started with a more-reasonable length gravel climb up to a rocky ridgetop trail that rolled along for a while before descending to another gravel road. Another gravel road transition took us to the next section of singletrack, which upon our arrival, I recognized as the section that Harlan took us on during the women’s MTB camp last fall. I knew that the climb up to the top of the ridge was tough, and with four hours of Big Floppy Bike riding already under my belt for the day, my ego was not above walking a lot of it. I rode the little droppy-jawn that we’d sessioned during camp without hesitation, and proceeded to the long, screaming descent back down to the car.

Said Droppy-Jawn

All in all, it was really awesome to escape winter for a weekend and get some Big Floppy Bike acclimation in with Brienne, even if she wasn’t quite in her element. So far the forecast is looking good for this weekend, so I’m hoping to introduce her to Wildcat on Sunday and really see what she can do. Since I haven’t seen Wildcat in five months, I’m afraid that I’ll have lost some of the nerve that I built up at the end of the summer, but I think last weekend was good for blowing out some of my MTB cobwebs. I’m really excited for the possibilities that this season presents now that I’ve fully achieved by my mountain bike #squadgoals. Now it’s just up to me to make sure they reach their potential.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Week 4.5: Wrapping Up

I had intended to reintroduce the weekly Monday update format to my blog as I began my journey leading up to the Tran-Sylvania Epic mountain bike stage race in late May. I have to say that my first month of preparatory training has actually gone pretty darn well under the circumstances, so I haven’t really needed the Monday posts to keep me honest as much I thought I might.

As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts, the beginning of 2017 has really been a lot more focused on getting ready for my Certified Business Analysis Professional exam and wrapping up tests and treatment decisions regarding my DCIS diagnosis from back in December. Because of that, Monday provided very little material to post nor time to in which to post it, as I was in final CBAP cramming mode, but today I can report happy(ish) conclusions to all matters, save the TSE.

On Tuesday I completed my CBAP exam. Because they overhauled the exam in September based on a new version of the BABOK, they are doing a six-month evaluation period when they look at examinees’ actual performance on the new exam before determining what the passing score will be. Basically, they're grading on a curve. So I found the actual exam to be pretty challenging, but based on as much as I studied and felt like I had a good overall grasp of the material, I’m guessing that everyone else found it just as hard. I won’t find out for sure until the end of March, but I think that when it’s all said and done, that I will most likely pass. Until then, I have an embossed piece of paper saying that I *took the test* as solace.



Today also marked the end of my DCIS journey, or at least this phase of it. My Oncotype DX score came back and said that I was at low risk for recurrence, specifically 14% overall recurrence and 6% for invasive cancer over the next 10 years. I met with a radiation oncologist today who confirmed that, per standard guidelines, I was officially “supposed to” get radiation based on my age alone, but given all of my other factors and test results, that forgoing radiation and sticking with regular monitoring was as also a reasonable approach if I felt like that was the best choice for myself. So I will have one more visit with my surgeon in March and then mostly likely find a doctor to oversee my long-term monitoring, which will consist of annual mammograms and/or MRIs to hopefully catch any future recurrence early.

It’s honestly a little weird having my two biggest stressors of the last two months suddenly lifted. Since I’ve been doing a great job at keeping my training up during all of this, as well as pretty much not drinking and limiting myself to one non-home cooked meal per week during the month of January, being back down to just having a job and training for bikes sounds pretty easy. Apparently this morning the groundhog said that there would be six more weeks of winter, but this winters’s been okay so far, so right now I’m feeling like February’s got nothing on me.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Week #3: A Real Mountain Bike Ride in January

Last week I really began to feel my training load after finally getting back on a solid schedule a couple of weeks ago. Tuesday was a planned day off, and I felt the appropriate amount of tired going into it. I struggled a bit Wednesday and Thursday, but managed to get through everything as planned. Friday I felt like I was coming down with something and ended up working from home all day and skipping my planned weight training.

Saturday I was feeling most back to normal, which was especially fortunate, as it presented a rare opportunity for a real mountain bike ride in January. This winter hasn’t quite been on par with last year’s strong El Nino, but the snow accumulation has still been pretty light. A week of 40’s and 50’s plus rain cleaned off everything that had been sitting, and Saturday promised 50 degrees and no rain, even if it was still damp and foggy.

This definitely does not look like winter.

My Camber was out of commission since I hadn’t been expecting to need it for a while and had the shock sent out for service, so it was it was little difficult negotiating the slippery rocks of Cooper’s Gap on my hardtail with not-so-grippy tires. I even struggled on Beautiful trail, which I had pretty dialed on my hardtail last summer preparing for the Wilderness 101. It’s amazing what six months away and some moisture can do to one’s skills. Regardless, it was still really awesome to get to actually mountain bike this time of year instead of just gravel grinding or doing laps of Accuweather on my fat bike, which has been the bulk of my weekend riding lately.

I was also pretty happy that, since I switched my long day and my interval day due to weather this weekend, I was still able to bang out an interval session on the rollers Sunday morning. Normally intervals the morning after a 3-hour mountain bike ride would be nearly impossible for me, but I handled it pretty well. I know part of it is that I am finally capable of doing chill long rides in Rothrock without completely destroying my legs, but I’m also hoping that it’s evidence that my ability to recovery between workouts is improving. I definitely feel like I’m managing a bigger workload overall than I was last winter, and I’ll need every bit of it come May.

I know that wasn’t the most exciting recap of the past week, but that is the essence of winter training. You just have to keep doing the thing now for the payoff later. So I did my thing, I blogged my thing, and now we’re one week closer to spring.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Week #2: Drill Baby Drill

Okay, so things seem to have calmed down enough to accommodate my goal of returning to weekly Monday updates in 2017. While the first week of January turned out to be a bit of a training bust, I settled in and put in a really solid week last week.

Right now my planned schedule is weights on Monday, Wednesday, Friday (Wednesday sessions are with the trainer, Steve), sprints on the trainer (not Steve) Tuesday, 3-5 minute intervals on the rollers on Thursday, 8-10 minute intervals on the rollers on Saturday morning, easy Accuweather ride on Saturday afternoon, and then long (shooting for four hours) ride on Sunday. Last week I actually pulled that off, and I’m feeling pretty good. My goal right now is mainly just to focus on improving my overall work capacity, which will be my biggest limiter going into the TSE, and to reintroduce some the higher intensity work that sadly got pushed by the wayside last year while I focused on trying to survive endurance races. I know it’s not reasonable to expect daily quality workouts indefinitely, so I figure I’ll bump my interval session for a rest day every other Tuesday and try to stretch that out to a day off every third or fourth as my work capacity increases.

Regarding the other tests from previous posts, I’m still looking at another week or so before I get my Oncotype DX score, which will determine if I need further intervention to prevent a recurrence of my DCIS, or if my left boobie can finally move on to live its life in peace. As for the CBAP exam, I’m starting to feel better about my chances of passing, although I’m still focusing on studying/drilling on one knowledge area at a time, and I’m worried about how I’ll handle it when I’m faced with a 120 questions from across the whole 440-page BABOK at once. Much like my approach to the CBAP, my cycling study skills will need to improve in 2017.

My TSE experience is driven by the long-held belief that even though I’ll probably never have the fitness to be competitive in the GC, I might someday be able to practice my way onto the enduro podium. The latter part of last summer revolved around that idea, as I set out on my new slacker and squishier mountain bike and conquered trails I’d previously been afraid to try. After several weeks of drilling, I had vastly improved my times on most of the TSE enduro segments, but I was still pretty far off the top women’s times on Strava. Of course, none of the top women were from around State College and most had never ridden these trails outside of the TSE, and yet they still posted much better times than I had after weeks of practice. While course familiarity could give me an advantage over someone with a similar skill level, I realized that to be competitive, I needed to raise my game well beyond what was possible from just practicing the same trails over and over.

For the first time since my sadly inept first season of DINO racing in 2006, my technical skills actually felt like an appreciable weakness for me. Sometime along the way my skills got “good enough” and could out-descend most of the girls in Cat 2 XC races in Indiana, and eventually monster truck my way through most of the rock gardens in Rothrock (still not 100% on that, though). Climbing and endurance were how I lost races, so that was where I put my energy. While riding in Rothrock made me feel like a better rider, because I was capable of day-to-day functioning on really hard trails, it maybe actually made me worse in some areas because monster-trucking was all that I did.

I had a rough time coming to this realization during the part of fall where I was supposed to be putting my mountain away and focusing on ‘cross. I felt the sudden need to “fix myself” skill-wise when there was very little time left before winter to do anything about it. This led to a meltdown after a terrible day at the Raven Enduro, where I lost on a course where I’d been practicing my butt off to some girl for whom it was likely her first race ever and who had probably been riding for like a year. I’d almost gotten used to that happening in ‘cross due a dumb thing called threshold power, which I don’t and probably never will have much of, but to have it happen in a skill-based discipline was heartbreaking.

The week that followed was defined by several nights of bad sleep due to the stress, getting a large needle jammed in my boob a few times, roofers blasting their radio and banging their hammer at 7:30 every morning while I was trying to sleep off the stress, and finally finding out that I would need surgery to remove the lump that the large needle had been jammed into earlier in the week. So when I headed to Take Aim Cycling women’s weekend that Friday exhausted, stressed, and desperate for a quick fix, you can imagine how well that worked out. Bursting into tears on the last day of the clinic when I was supposed to share a “positive thought” that I’d brought back from the woods was officially the low point of my 2016 cycling year.

Ironically, I did have a huge breakthrough in my log-riding ability a couple of hours later during an ad hoc lesson that replaced the real ride I was too tired to go on. I’ve actually gotten much better at Accuweather, which is the only “mountain biking” that weather and daylight have allowed since the clinic.

The point of this is that, like the CBAP, enduro turned out to be much more of a challenge than I thought it would be, and it really stressed me out there for a while. Also, while drilling specific trails/knowledge areas can help me improve, I’ve got to pull it together and work on the big picture if I want to pass the test. I guess you can say I moved my test date back, as well, by switching to the three day TSE. Setting a more manageable TSE goal will free me up to do things like go a trip to Pisgah and do some of the West Virginia enduro series without worrying that I’m being pulled away from reconning the Rothrock trails a million times before Memorial Day weekend. Exposing myself to new trails more will help make me a better rider long-term, even if I don’t feel as much short-term confidence on my local trails if I practiced them every weekend leading up to the race. I also hope to get back down to Harrisonburg a few times this year and maybe meet up with Harlan for some one-on-one lessons when I’ve actually slept and I can focus better.

As frustrating as unexpected challenges can be at first, they can lead to great things once the shock wears off. I hate having to study for the CBAP in addition to working and training, but I’m really proud of myself for rising to the challenge and learning to actually study after a lifetime of doing well enough without it. My hope for this year is that I will also break out of my mountain bike rut and take my skill level from “good enough” to actually good.

I also plan on trying things that involve full-face helmets and tiny flat shoes.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Passing Tests

Prior to Christmas break, I had planned to come back in January and get back on my Monday weekly update schedule leading up to my big goal of the Tran-Sylvania Epic. Winter is tough, and committing to weekly updates makes it easier to stay on task leading up to a big goal that seems so far away. Lately, though, winter itself hasn’t been my biggest challenge. It seems that life has other tests in store me, admittedly some of them self-imposed.

The first of these tests was the BRCA genetic test for hereditary breast cancer. I “passed” that one earlier in the week with a negative result. That means do prophylactic double mastectomy, which I wasn’t even letting myself consider as a real possibility due to the mental distress it would have caused if I thought about it too hard, and luckily, I no longer have to.

Despite blogging out my case for declining radiation for my DCIS in my last post, my doctor isn’t letting me off the hook that easily. I guess that’s fair, since standard procedure would be to ship me off to radiation immediate after the negative BRCA test. Since I’m resisting that standard procedure, he suggested a second test, Oncotype DX Breast DCIS Score, be run to help hone in on my personal change of recurrence. If it’s low, I’m off the hook, but if it’s high, I’ll have to rethink my position.

Christmas break looked kind of like this...
Surprisingly, cancer-y tests were still not the foremost exams on my mind over this Christmas break. I have been working up to applying to become a Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) for over a year, and once my breast surgery was over in December, I finally submitted my application and scheduled my exam for six weeks out on January 18. Of course, the call about the DCIS a couple of days later didn’t exactly help me get started studying right away, as I was too busy Googling breast cancer websites instead of reading the BABOK (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge). I considered just cancelling the test until the future was clearer, but I decided to still go for it around the 30-days-before no-penalty cancellation period.

...but mostly looked like this.
When I finally took my first practice test with a month to go, I realized how grossly unprepared I was, and I went into panic-study mode for most of Christmas break. I think I’ve done more studying for this test in the past two weeks that I’ve studied for all other things in my life prior combined. I was a bit of a lazy student who got by on a combo raw intelligence, luck, and easy subject matter through high school and college.

I have finally met my match with this test, though. I have been relatively successful in my general knowledge-cramming over Christmas break, but there are still many practices questions where I have to give my full level of concentration and analytical thought to figure them out, and sometimes I still don’t. My original test was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on a Wednesday in Harrisburg, because that is the closest testing center. I chose that center because it was the closest and they only had 8:00 a.m. time slots. I did not know how serious the process was, and that I would be stuck in a room with no food, drink, bathroom breaks, or any of personal effects for 3.5 hours straight. Trying to do that when I’ve been up since 5:00 to get ready and make the drive sounds excruciating. There was no way I was going to be the “best self” I would need to be succeed under those circumstances.

Despite not wanting to pay the cancellation fee nor pay for another month of practice test subscription, I finally caved and moved the test back to January 31 at a slightly further-away test center. I did this to get a 1:00 slot on a Tuesday, so Frank can go with me as he has no Tuesday classes this semester. Even though it’s a longer drive, I think every hour driven before 8:00 a.m. counts double, so it will still be much more convenient. The later date will give me a bit more time to study and more importantly, the afternoon slot will allow me to go into the test properly rested, fed, and hydrated (but not too hydrated because no bathroom breaks). Given all of that, I’m feeling more confident about my chances of passing the exam, but sadly, BABOKing will likely take away some of my time and energy from training in January.

Finally, there is the TSE, which has somehow slipped several paragraph down in the tests that I will face in 2017. The registration opened on January, so after months of trying to recruit team members with little avail, Frank and I finally got to see the pricing for this year’s team category. With a starting price of $529 per person for teams of 2-4 people, it was a lot more than the $350-400 range I was expecting in January.

Given that completing the TSE is something that I’ve been planning/scheming/dreaming for nearly three years, the price alone wouldn’t have been enough to deter me. Last year’s race format collapsed the previous seven-day race into five-day “all meat, no filler” version on Monday-Friday. To me, last year’s race format was perfect: They combined the three most “meh” stages in one pretty good one, and the Monday-Friday format still gave people the weekends before and after for travel, acclimation, and recovery.

I know that travel isn’t a consideration in my TSE plans, but much like the CBAP exam,  to be my “best self” that is necessary to my survival of such a undertaking, being well-rested and calm going into the race and have time to decompress (not take my pajamas off for two days) after will be. That is why I’ve been decidedly less stoked about the race since announced the change to a Thursday-Monday schedule so “people don’t have to take as many days off of work”. Sure the actual race covers fewer business days, but who realistically puts in a full day at work, does a five-day stage race, and then goes back into a full day of work immediately following, even if their distance from the race allows it? The new schedule would require me to take just as many vacation days and get less rest out of it.

They are bringing back the three-day version in 2017, which is more likely the reason for the wonky schedule change, to shove the three-day race into the three day weekend. The means that the Tussey, Enduro, and Cooper’s Gap stages are shoved together in the last three days of the five-day race. Those are the stages that I actually care about, so I made the decision that the extra money and stress to do the Bald Eagle and R.B. Winter stages weren’t worth it, at least for this already “testy” year. I may feel a little regret at not doing the “whole thing” as I had planned, but I’m also feeling kind of inspired to put in the best three days of Tussey/Enduro/Cooper’s Gap that I can. That’s still not an easy race by any means.

So with that very long explanation of the tests that I will be facing this winter, I will leave you until next week. I need to be studying, and well, studying.

While I've been on-point in the gym lately, Laser Cat time on Sunday and studying on Tuesday seemed to have bumped my riding. Definitely planning on putting in the first hour of 2017 in on the rollers tonight.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Little C

When I was writing my post last week summarizing all of the stuff than Frank and I had been up to since the end of ‘cross, I wasn’t sure whether to include the tidbit about my breast surgery or not. It seemed like a very minor thing that, in the context of my continued telling of the story of my bike adventures, wouldn't have a major effect on the plot. I still gave it a paragraph, because, despite not making any major impact on my training, especially during the off-season, it felt like it was still part of the larger story and needed to be included.

The funny thing was that I didn’t tell very many people about it unless they read the blog post. Basically, it was just my mom, my boss, the Laser Cat group chat, and my manicurist, who was mostly included to explain the giant bruise my hand that had resulted from a failed IV insertion when I went to get my nails done the day after surgery. It’s interesting because this time of year my Facebook memories are full of six-year-old updates on my pancreas drama posted for any “friend” who wanted to read them. I guess I’ve become less public in my sharing since then, but let’s face it, even minor breast surgery is a lot more “triggering” to people than major pancreas surgery, so I was not in a big hurry to draw attention to it. As I explained to my manicurist while laughing about her inclusion in the small group of people that I had told, “If you tell people, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you have cancer’, and I totally don’t have cancer.”

Well, it turns out that I totally had cancer. Well, maybe I had cancer? Pre-cancer? Stage 0 cancer? My boob had a small number of cancer cells performing short time trials to see who would wear the leader’s jersey in the first real stage of the Tour de Cancer? (Worst charity ride name ever.)

Whatever you want to call it, a week after the surgery, the doctor called me to say that they had found DCIS in my pathology report. That stands for Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, so the “C” is, in fact, “The Big C” that we all fear. Luckily, the “IS” stands for a Latin term for “in its original place", meaning that it was just hanging out in my otherwise unused milk ducts not really hurting anything yet. It was already removed with a nice “clear margin” before I even knew it was there.

That hasn’t made the week since finding out any less stressful. DCIS was all I was told on the phone Friday night, with no details about my particular case. I would have to wait until my surgical follow-up on Wednesday for those. That made for a not-very-awesome weekend of worrying while still trying to muster the energy to go ride bikes in the cold. I did a pretty good job of holding myself together until the appointment on Wednesday, only crying a bit on Saturday night, mostly because I was frustrated at having important information withheld from me for several days longer than I thought it should have been. Obviously I spent a lot of time Googling from Saturday-Tuesday.

When Wednesday finally came, the news was better than I had feared. I was very afraid of having to have radiation, partly because it sounded awful and because of what it could potentially do to my TSE plans. The first order of business was the BRCA test, which is a genetic test for hereditary breast cancer risk for which a positive result pretty much means a double mastectomy in the near future. Luckily, positive results are also rare. I should get that test result in the next 1-2 weeks, and given a negative result, the decision will need to be made as to whether I will get radiation or not.

The surgeon handed me an article from Time magazine about over-treatment of minor breast cancers and what some researchers are doing to figure out how to responsibly treat patients with less intervention. He showed me a chart of the Van Nuys Prognostic Index which is one guide that can be used to determine the likelihood of DCIS coming back after surgery with no radiation. I was the best case scenario for all columns, except for my age, and he told me that basically any radiation oncologist would say that I needed radiation based on my age. In this case, younger is “worse”, because the longer you have left to live, the more time the cancer has to come back before you die of something else. Then he told me that the radiation wouldn’t be as bad as I was imagining, and that I would “feel normal for the first four weeks, and then get kind of sunburned and cranky and take it out on (Frank) for the last two weeks”.


The upshot is that the decision whether or not to have radiation is really up to me. By the current standard of care, I’m “supposed to” get it based on my age. The problem is that radiation will only cut my not-actually-that-high chance of recurrence in half, give or take depending the source of the information, and once it’s done I won’t be able to radiation in that breast again or have much of a chance at successful breast reconstruction if I get a new, worse cancer in the future. And the chance getting a new, worse cancer in the future is relatively small, but still real, whether I get the radiation now or not.

Rather than treating my age and its accompanying long window for recurrence as a reason to take the “kill it with fire” approach now, I’d rather take the approach that with current medical technology, I only have so many cards to play, and I’d rather save them in case I need them worse later. I’d prefer to just keep a close eye on the situation, and hope that treatment options improve before my long window for recurrence is up. Better yet, my real hope is that I side with the majority of women with my size and grade of DCIS who never have a recurrence and thus don’t have to worry about future treatment options. Plus, I’m already going to be tired and cranky enough this winter getting ready for the TSE.

It’s interesting because, as stressful as this week has been, my brush with “The Big C” doesn’t feel as huge as one might imagine. It’s tough making the decision about what I want to do when it goes against what I’m “supposed to” do. Luckily, my in-house rhetorician supports me, and has been helping me practice my talking points for defending my choice as well as practicing them himself on my behalf. I know that I’m going to have be vigilant for the rest of my life about this, but once a little time passes, I think it will feel normal and less stressful, and this little brush might have saved me from something worse in the future.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Transition Season

I thought I’d write a short check-in post, because it’s been a while since the last one.

Since our last cyclocross race, Frank and I spent a week in Oklahoma visiting my parents for Thanksgiving. We didn’t ship bikes out this time, and were a little stir crazy by the time the week was over. We tried to get as much physical activity as we could by walking dogs and petting cats.




We came back just in time to help out with No Scrubs 2: Electric Boogaloo, Team Laser Cats’ now annual fundraiser alley cat race. Frank hit all of the checkpoints with a little help from local friends while I hung out behind a Walmart and facilitated the feeding of some feral cats.



Once we were home and settled back in with our own kitties, we began our off-season weight training program last week and had our first session with a trainer. I haven’t worked with a trainer since 2013 and Frank hasn’t since high school, and I feel like my strength has really fallen by the wayside since I moved to State College and recovering from the day-to-day strain of life on the rocks began to take priority over from serious and consistent gym efforts. My plan for the next 12-13 weeks is to learn some new tricks, establish a fresh routine, and get really strong again for the first time in nearly four years.

It doesn’t look like there will be a New Jersey fat bike series this year, which is just as well for us, since I’d already made the decision to focus on strength training this winter. We have pulled out the fat bikes a couple of times since Sly Fox, even though it’s not really snowed much yet. I really just prefer riding Hellga when it’s below 50 degrees, whether there’s snow or not, because working hard to go slow is actually a good thing when it’s cold, and I can fully commit to looking silly in the name of comfort, Cobrafists and all.

A very serious post-surgery cat-filled fat bike ride.

Finally, I completed an important transition season milestone on Friday by getting three papillomas removed from my left breast. While getting things cut out of your body is never really convenient, if you’re a cyclist who isn’t gearing up for cyclocross nationals, December is a good time to do it.

Luckily, it really was as easy breezy the surgeon made it out to be. I got a good excuse to use one of the many surplus sick days that I have stored up at work, and got to take a nice drug-induced nap. I took my doses of hydrocodone the first day as the anesthesiologist recommended, but when I woke up Saturday morning never having passed 3 on the pain scale, I stuck with just ibuprofen from that point on. I was able to go the gym Saturday and do a short, easy fat bike ride at Accuweather on Sunday. I’m pretty much down to just minor discomfort that shouldn’t stop me from any of my planned gym sessions or roller rides this week. I’m pretty glad to have that behind me, and that it’s unlikely that it will turn into cancer or anything worse in the future.

So that’s what I’ve been up to the past few weeks, and the next few look to be more of the same: weights, rollers, and long Sunday fat bike rides. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t already getting nervous that I have now officially entered into my TSE build-up period after three years of wondering if I’d ever be able to actually do it, but we have many months left to discuss my inevitable progress and inevitable doubt on the journey to #singletracksummercamp. For now, I’m doing my best to embrace the somewhat boring routine of base-building, as it will make for better exciting stuff later.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sly Fox 'Cross: Out With a Bang

Now the majors called up ol’ what's her name
And one more Cat 2 rises tall
And suddenly we're all grown up
And this Cat Squad ain’t quite so small
But I wouldn’t miss that middle size race
In the in ‘burbs to Philly’s west
With sweet off-cambers, and local beers,
And vegan baked goods, and all the rest

They brew their beer with Belgian yeast.
We bake our cookies egg-free, no gel’tin.
That race director, what’s his name?
Well we can't even spell it.
We don't worry about our upgrade points.
We just hit the run-up and dig deep.
There's nothing like the view from the cheap seats.

(A continuation of last year's Sly Fox post.)

I spent the past weekend in Philly with Frank, as it was the annual conference for the National Communication Association, the biggest gathering of the year for academics in his field. Although I admit that driving into Philly in the Lime-a-Bean alone on Friday night and sleeping a hotel for two nights probably weren’t the best for my body and brain, both of which have already been driven pretty far into exhaustion lately, it was fun to finally get to witness the phenomenon of “NCA” to which my husband disappears every November. I also got meet a lot people who I previously only knew from their Facebook profile pictures over the last 3.5 years.


The other upside was that my birthday was on Saturday, and I got to spend it with my Laser Cat friends. Frank and I finally got to meet “Mother Belmont”, as the team lovingly refers to the Belmont trail system, which is known for its Thursday night hot laps and for its twists, turns, and logs. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the trails, which is likely because I have mostly heard stories from people who first learned to ride there or at least weren’t that experienced when they first took them on. I went in with the expectation that it would be slow and frustrating the first time, but it was actually pretty fun. It was a great opportunity to employ my recently-improved wheel-lifting skills that I developed at the Take Aim cycling clinic the previous weekend.



(I realize that I never posted about the clinic, but post-Raven Enduro depression, lack of sleep, potential boob surgery, and Trump elections all conspired to destroy my blogging motivation the past couple of weeks. At least the boob surgery situation looks to not be that bad. I just have to get some benign lumps removed as a preventative measure on December 2, and according to the surgeon, I can be back on the bike the next day.)

Sunday was the Sly Fox Cross race, which, despite my ‘cross ennui of late, I wouldn’t miss because it is the best race in the in the Mid-Atlantic region and an important fundraiser for our team in the form of the second annual Team Laser Cats bake sale. I was certainly tired from the weekend so far, but I figured it was my last “real” race of the season, so what’s 40 more minutes of hard riding for the year?


Because Sly Fox wasn’t part of a series this year, the call-ups were by order of registration, and I was the second one to be called up based on my motivation being much higher whenever registration had opened. This didn’t really help my start at all, as I was distracted by the crowd and a million other thoughts, and I had a very delayed reaction to the whistle. I slid backwards through paved opening straight, and got caught behind a crash as we entered the course in earnest. By the time I got untangled from the girl most of the field had flooded around me, but rather than panic, I just stood up, tightened my shoe, and calmly started riding my bike.


Thus began three laps of working my way back through the field. It was nice because I was so past caring what my result was, and my main motivation was the technical nature of the course and not wanting to be stuck behind slower riders on the features. It apparently worked for me, because I picked off a lot of people. The last lap was a little lonely, as I could no longer see anyone in front of me to chase down. I knew my teammate Michaela was up there just out of sight, but when I met her in pretty much the exact same spot that I had in the last lap, I knew I hadn’t gained any ground. I did my best to just stay on the gas and ride out the final eight or minutes of my 2016 ‘cross season.

I finished pretty satisfied with my effort in working my way up through the race, but it was a pretty big field, so I figured I was still in the bottom half. I wasn’t in a huge rush to look at the results, so when I finally started to mosey in that direction, I saw Frank coming toward me making jazz hands. At first I thought he was just happy to see me, but it turns out that I got 9th out of 30, which was by far my best placing since moving to PA.

Despite my overall short and disappointing ‘cross season, I was able to go out with a bang at Sly Fox. I can already feel my November SAD lifting, because now I can actually proceed with the “off-season” that I’ve been planning for months. It’s been four years since I took a few months to back off the bike and hit the weights hard, but every time I’ve done so in the past, I’ve had awesome results. We’re visiting my parents for Thanksgiving this year instead of Christmas, so once we’re back from that, we can start a solid three months of weights and rollers without much interruption. (Boob surgeries and a very short Christmas trip to Florida aside.)

So even though my SAD started early this year, it looks like I’ll be able to shake it sooner, as well. Right now I’m feeling very motivated and hopeful as I start laying the foundation for big things in 2017.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Down the Drain

"You can never go down the drain." - Mr. Rogers

After my last post I realized that what I was feeling after the last couple of ‘cross weekends was nothing new, it was just my own version of Seasonal Affective Disorder kicking in a bit earlier than normal. In the same vein of being able to see my cycling ups and downs for what they are, I can look back across my career and see that pretty much every fall I hit a point where the remaining promise of what the calendar year could bring seems pretty low, and I’m just ready to move on. While it’s quite possible that it is actual SAD coming into play, I don’t quite fit the typical description in that I usually bounce back in January and February when other people are complaining about the terrible winter weather, and the SAD should be the worst. It’s not that I like winter weather, but’s it the time when everything still seems possible and there’s plenty of motivation put in the work that will hopefully make the following November a little less SAD.

Back in the summer, our team put on a cyclocross clinic where Arley Kemmerer gave the analogy of the big training build-up prior to the ‘cross season and subsequent backing off once racing begins as “draining the bathtub”. It feels like most years I never quite get my bathtub full enough and I’m left wet, naked, and shivering for the last 6-8 weeks of year until January gives me the opportunity to dry out and start filling the tub again. Looking back, I’m pretty sure my tub was already empty for the year as I sat and listened to her on July 30, but I just wasn’t ready to admit that yet.

This weekend I completed the MASS enduro series at the Raven Enduro just outside of State College. Even though the race is nearby, I had never ridden most of the trails for it until September. I had hoped to jam in enough practice sessions to gain some sort of home course advantage and actually do well after really struggling on unfamiliar enduro courses early in the season. I guess the Raven course just didn’t suit me, or I didn’t have enough time to learn the subtleties of the many unfamiliar rock gardens around the course. This lead to a very disappointing finish, despite my becoming the “series champion” based various technicalities including the fact that I paid $20 to be scored for the series when quite a few faster girls in my category did not.

I had typed up a much lengthier race report that detailed how things came apart, but it doesn’t really matter. I have already come to the logical conclusion that I always reach in these situations, which is that I have the choice to quit racing bikes or keep working to get better, as slow and frustrating as the progress is relative to that of other people sometimes. I think we all know by now that I never to end up choosing quit, at least not permanently. It’s going to take a while for my emotional self to catch up to that conclusion, though, so I still might have a few weeks of chilly bathtub moments ahead.

I guess the benefit to recognizing your old patterns from the past is that it gives you the opportunity to change them, although I’m not quite sure how yet. I guess for starters, can somebody hand me a towel?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

This Love

This love is good, this love is bad
This love is alive, back from the dead
These hands had to let it go free
And this love came back to me

These words rang in my head during the Emmaus Cyclocross Festival race on Saturday, and not because I was feeling a lot of love at the time. It was actually because I was sort of hating cyclocross at the time, and the words reminded me that it’s okay to sort of hate cyclocross sometimes. Eleven years of racing gives one a lot of perspective on the up and down phases of vastly different seasons over many different years, and I can now recognize that love for different disciplines comes and goes based on the circumstances around them at the time.

Sometimes you have to let a discipline go for a bit and let the love come back on its own. Remember, "XC sucks"? Well, I guess still haven't started racing XC again since 2012, but I'm, you know, willing to give it another chance after all this time.

After a mediocre debut ‘cross weekend at Town Hall/Quaker City, I proceeded to have a rough weekend at Charm City. I did quite badly in my races, with my Saturday power being so low I didn’t even want to finish the race because I could barely propel my bike around the difficult course, much less race other people around it. For various reasons, known and unknown, I was absolutely exhausted the whole weekend and participated in more car napping than heckling fun times, and the snacks tent blew away to add insult to injury. My teammates all did awesome, with Elisabeth and Taylor holding off Katie Compton’s lapping advances in their UCI C1 debut, and Taryn and Emma both making podium appearances in stacked 3/4 fields. While I am happy to see them all doing so well, “the view from the cheap seats” has been feeling a bit lonely this season.


I’d hoped that a smaller field at Emmaus might help me turn things around and get my confidence back. I got a pretty good start and was in fourth place when I slid out on some wet grass in the second corner. The disconcerting part was that I felt more relief than frustration when it happened. Like, “Well, I have an excuse to be in last place now…” That can’t be a good sign. I went on to make up a couple of places, only to lose them back and crash again when I thought, “Ooh, at least I don’t have anyone in front of me, Imma go through this section no brakes. Oh wait, I don’t actually know where the ‘no brakes’ line is…bump, bump, brake, crash.” I’m almost certain that I had never crashed twice in a single race prior to that.

The most satisfying racing that I’ve done in the last two weeks, was trying to pick off the Masters 4/5 men later in the day in Emmaus when the option of a “FatCX” race placed me behind them in the final race of the afternoon. Chasing down old men who have a head start while on a fat bike seems to be way more motivating than chasing down Cat 4 women while riding a normal ‘cross bike.

***

I started this post a couple of days ago, but I didn’t post it because I couldn’t seem to wrap it up with the nice, philosophical conclusion that I always try to do. I think the challenge is that it’s really not that complicated. I made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t looking forward to this ‘cross season, but decided to give it a go, anyway. I gave it a shot, hoping that the social aspect would outweigh the other challenges, or that I might end up with magically better legs that I was expecting. Neither of those things happened, and I’m ready to move on and hope that the elusive “science, magic, and you” that make up a great ‘cross season come together in 2017.

Until then, I want to get back to spending as much quality time as I can with my main (bike) squeeze, Tormund Giantsbane, before the weather gives out on us. I even booked us a romantic getaway in Virginia in a couple of weeks, where I’m hoping that Harlan Price will help “Imma go through this section no brakes” become a more successful venture for me in the future. Sadly, it’s ladies only, so I’m bummed that I have to leave my main human squeeze at home, but maybe it will give him a chance to sneak away and race some ‘cross without me, as he’s been having a better season than I have.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Town Hall and Quaker City Cross: I Was Nineteen(th)

I felt you in my legs
Before I ever met you
And when I tried to ride you
For the first time I told you

I feel you in my heart and I don't even know you
And the leaders are saying bye, bye, bye
And the leaders are saying bye, bye, bye
I was nineteen(th), pull meeeee

This weekend I kicked off my 2016 ‘cross season in the most painful of manners, with the double, overnight-stay race weekend combo of Town Hall Cross and Quaker City Cross. Not to spoil the race report too early, but I discovered yesterday that I got 19th at Town Hall and 11th at Quaker City, which were the exact same placings that I got at those respective races last year. Furthermore, I have now been in 19th place at Town Hall for three straight years in a row. I figured Teegan and Sarah’s “Nineteen” was the most appropriate into lyric source possible, although I never really fully understood that song. Honestly, my ‘cross-focused lyrical tweaks might make a little more sense.

I mentioned in last week’s post that starting the season at Town Hall would be especially painful because of the long climb at the start. However, this year they added some extra twisty and turning before the climb, but once you hit it, it was straight up instead of snaking switchbacks up the hill. They also added a pair of very small logs on the steep final tier of the climb, which I’ve always been able to barely eke out without dismounting in the past, but the tiny bit of extra resistance this year turned the final tier of the climb into a run-up for me.


The start was definitely painful, but I didn’t go into full mental fetal position as I had feared. I got off the line pretty well but fell back when the starting straight turned steeper and sloggier. It only took one or two minutes of riding backward in the pack to regain my composure and start moving up. When we did hit the base of the big, straight-up climb for the first time, I saw a decent-sized pack of girls still within striking distance who were struggling up the hill as much as I was. I maintained the gap to top and then set to work picking them off on the flat, turny remainder of the course. I can’t remember how many people I ended up passing. It felt like a lot, but the 19th place seems to indicate otherwise. Given, I was probably in 23rd or 24th at my worst point.

Quaker City was pretty similar because they funneled us onto a long uphill drag almost immediately, and I lost a lot of positions going up that for the first time. Luckily, I set to work taking them back immediately after cresting the top and I seemed to move back up in the pack pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, each subsequent grind up the hill jeopardized the places I had gained. I was doing my best to ride as hard as I could up it and stay conscious of my lines so that anyone trying to come around wouldn’t have an easy route. I’d tell myself, “Just get to the top and you’ll be good,” and most of the laps I made it to the top clear. I’d get near the top, click down a couple of cogs, and smash the inside line to the awaiting downhill. I’d do my best to hold good lines through the turns while my brain screamed for oxygen in the hope of pulling away from my competition. Then I’d hit the swooping 180 to another, albeit shorter, grind up to the next swoopy section. And that would be where I’d get passed.


Despite my best efforts to defend my position up until that point in lap, it seems that all my matches were gone each time I hit the second grinding section. I’d recover through the swoopy section, sprint through the starting straight, and fly through the curvy bits that lead to the run-up, eating up the ground back to girls who had just passed me. I even did pretty well on the run-up, as I remember three different times a guy yelling at me to “make the pass” around the same girl. Two of the times I fell for it, sprinting to the top, and holding my lead through the back field section and hoping I’d lose her for good, only to be passed back after the big hill. The third time I didn't really try to pass her and just accepted the place that I was in. Sadly, I couldn’t even maintain that and lost another place to a girl who I’d been holding off for a couple of laps. I was close enough to still maybe catch her going into the last swoopy section, but I overcooked a turn and dropped my chain in the attempt.

The race felt very much like the battle I had with my future teammate Taryn during her first-ever ‘cross race at the Quaker City last year. She’s now close to getting her Cat 2 upgrade, and I’m still battling for 11th place in the 3/4s. Expanding my Crossresults.com page, at least from my Pennsylvania era, brings to mind the Battlestar Galactica catchphrase, “"All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again."

Of course, it’s too soon to tell if the latter part is true. I’m still holding out hope for a ‘cross comeback sometime in my career and to perhaps earn my Cat 2 upgrade before I’m old enough to wiggle out of it by racing the 40+ race, but I decided back in the summer that this would probably not be the year for it. A little part of me hoped that I somehow magically got faster over the last year without doing any ‘cross-specific training, but unsurprisingly, that is not the case. I’m okay with that because I have chosen not to make ‘cross a priority this year and it shows. I’m just going to keep doing my best and let the handful of races that I’m even planning on doing this season play out however they’ll play out.

I did this little comparison of my lap times, which confirmed exactly how I felt racing. The first super-steady set is Town Hall, and the second is Quaker City.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Keystone Gravel: So I Ate a Taco and Took the Short Course Route

"Nonetheless, this combination of efficiency and precision can be an effective one, and their bluntly assertive style helps them to achieve difficult tasks by sheer force of character."

This was part of the description of my C/D result on a DISC personality type test earlier in the week. I took the test at the suggestion of a business analysis article on the importance of understanding yourself and those with whom you work. I like to think of my work self as more of the “efficiency and precision” part of the sentence, but I’ve also not been a stranger to achieving difficult tasks by sheer force of character in my personal life the last few months.

On Saturday, Frank and I participated in Keystone Gravel, an interesting new type of event planned and produced by our buddy Donnie Breon, near Jersey Shore, PA. It was a 56-mile gravel ride with timed segments throughout the course, including climbs, descents, a mountain-bikey section, and a paved time trial section. The winners were determined by best cumulative times on the segments and the riding in between was supposed to be fun-paced with a waffle stop, taco stop, and bar stop mixed in. Of course, the average participant’s “fun pace” is about the same about my race pace, so I aimed to just ride steady the whole way, although I did try to push it a bit on the descents.


This was far from an “A race” for me, but we wanted to show up and support the event. For the week or so prior, I’d been mentally struggling with work stress and the impending transition to ‘cross season and physically struggling with headaches, digestive distress, and unexplained bad sleep. I've also been so mountain bike focused that I hadn’t been on my ‘cross bike for longer than an hour and a half at a a time since Iron Cross last year. All that being said, I thought that 56 miles of climby gravel still wouldn’t be *that* hard having finished the Wilderness 101 a few weeks before. It was that hard.

We're here for the waffles.

It’s not that I couldn’t have suffered through and finished, but suffering seemed counter intuitive to the nature of the event. I had been doing my best to set decent “get through it” pace, but when we had an extended stop while Frank fixed a flat right before the taco stop and accompanying mechanical support (doh!), I guess he could tell just from the look on my face that I wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the long course, but the split between the two came right around the bend once we were rolling again.

I ate my taco at the rest stop and tried to decide which direction to take. Frank wanted to complete the long course, so we started rolling in that direction, but when I noticeably fell off the pace on the first little rise out of the aid station, he stopped and said we should turn around. I convinced him to give me the car keys and finish the long course alone. I headed back to the aid station to rejoin the short course route.

It was actually pretty nice. I rolled along the famous Pine Creek Trail all alone for most of the 10 miles to where the short and long courses came back together. I’d never ridden there before, and I enjoyed riding fast for a while, riding slow for a while, attempting to ride wheelies for a while, and taking in the lovely overcast fall day on flat gravel with a mountain on one side and a river the other.


I felt mildly guilty for taking the easy way out, but it was supposed to be a fun ride, and for how I was feeling that day, I kept it to the length that was still mostly fun. I had spent my summer gutting it out through other days when I wasn’t feeling great, but still finished because that was what I came to do. I proved to myself, or teammates, or ex-husband, or my dad, or whatever other voices were in my head saying that I had to suffer to end to not be a failure. Saturday was a day to ignore those voices that make me hate “death before DNF” almost as much as I hate “HTFU”. While both of those things are good advice in certain situations, they are harmful when they start to feel like judgements of character. At the TrailMix I repeated the slogan “so I didn’t DNF” to get myself to get through the day, but for Keystone Gravel I changed it to “so I ate a taco and took the short course route”, and both are perfectly valid responses to the circumstances of each given day.

The coming week will mark the transition to something completely different, as my cyclocross season will finally begin with a double weekend beginning on one the most painful starting grids of the PACX series, Town Hall. While Town Hall is actually one of my favorite courses of the series, I’m having a hard time conceptualizing how the first start of the year pain combined with the long uphill drag to switchback climb punch of the Town Hall course will feel. I’ll do my best, but I’m also at peace with the fact that my brain may crawl into fetal position two minutes into the race and spend the rest of the weekend trying to crawl out. I’m almost looking at it more as a scientific experiment than a race.

I did achieve my goal of getting a photo with this giant floof dog right before leaving.