Monday, July 29, 2013

Week #30: Emotional Overtraining

The blessing and the curse of a weekly blogging commitment is figuring out how to put a positive spin on an otherwise crappy week. In past years, I would have just skipped over the crappy parts, but this year I'm putting them out there, as honestly as possible, but still trying do something useful with them. So when trying to figure out how to best say, "I spent last week utterly exhausted and suffering from full-on cray cray anxiety levels", I have to think of the how, why, and what I learned from it. Hopefully, when that's over, I will be be more at peace, someone else might feel better about their own cray cray anxiety levels, and/or the judgy faces of the world can feel all superior looking down at my moment of trainwreckiness.

So this is my conclusion. It is particularly hard to admit that I broke down physically and emotionally after just celebrating a period of overcoming fun-but-stressful challenges that in years past I would have been too neurotic to handle. I then realized that, yes, this is still a training blog that is still about bikes, but the focus of my training this year has been emotional training rather than physical. Although I never consciously laid out a season training plan with phases and micro cycles and whatnot, that is essentially what I have been doing throughout the year. Laying a good base in the winter, choosing target "A race" life events that aren't necessarily races, and working through cycles of intentional stress and recovery have all played into my "training plan" this year much more than performing specific workouts on a given day or time of year.

Um, I washed some bikes at least.
The last month just turned out to be a tougher "training cycle" than was on the season plan. There was tons of good stress in the form of a new relationship, but also unplanned bad stress in the form of my grandma's death and subsequent trip to Oklahoma. Unfortunately, stress is still stress and my refusal to give up doing things that I wanted to do even though I was tired from doing things I didn't want to do got me to into trouble. I came into this "recovery week" having accomplished so much, but also pushed beyond my capacity and ended up tired, sick and anxious, just like someone trying to mash out a 20-hour training week at the end of a hard training cycle.

To be honest, I was really quite scared of how I was feeling, because I hadn't been so irritable or withdrawn in months. I knew this was a bad sign, and like an overtrained athlete, knew that, while rest was important, simply sitting on my ass literally and figuratively would not necessarily pull me out of the hole. I did rest a lot, taking Monday-Friday off of training completely. By the end of the week I knew that there was no way that I could sanely make it through the weekend's 6 hour race, so I pulled the plug on that, as well as any other activity or obligation that wasn't absolutely essential. With some of that stress relieved, I knew that spending the weekend in my pajamas would be putting myself at risk for depression, so I started working on my recovery strategy for doing things that would help me feel better with minimal stress.

The things that I determined to be most important were to get enough sleep, reestablish contact with friends who I hadn't seen in a while, and reestablish a minimal level of physical activity as I was past the point where full-time rest would continue to help. The sleep was pretty easy, since I had survived the workweek and made sure I didn't have to get up too early for anything on the weekend. 

Seeing friends was important because I'll admit that the last few weeks I've started to feel like "that girl" who ditches her friends when she meets a new guy. Establishing a relationship with someone who lives nine hours away is tricky, and I'll admit to making it my top priority lately. However, I now feel that we have made it through the "holeshot" phase of the relationship and can now confidently settle into a sustained pace, holding on through the straights and making the most of the corners. Of course, Frank doesn't have tubular wheels so he can't take full advantage of the corners, but perhaps it's better to have someone whose abilities compliment mine instead of matching them. Anyway, I devoted Saturday to time with my Wheel(wo)men Sarah and Janelle, as well as honorary Wheel(wo)man Liz. A leisurely lunch followed by a leisurely mountain bike ride really hit the spot.

Sunday I did mostly rest, but I made getting back in the gym a priority, as I think that is where I get the most advantage physically. Hopefully, this week I can keep that up and get back to doing intervals in preparation for 'cross season.

All in all, I'm still not fully recovered from my emotional overtraining, but I definitely feel a lot better. I also feel proud of myself for recognizing the problem and using more effective coping strategies than the pajamas and ice cream that I would have used in the past. So, even though a few days ago I might have been internally freaking out that "I'm going to be tired FOREVER", I now understand that is not the case. I just need to keep focusing on my recovery, and I will eventually be stronger and up for more challenges again as the year progresses.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Week #29: It's (Another) Adventure!

After struggling with all things that were outside of my control on my unplanned trip to Oklahoma, I was faced with a couple more challenges before returning home. When trying to board my return flight in Oklahoma City, I was informed that my originally-scheduled flight from Dallas to Indianapolis had been cancelled, and that I had been moved to a flight that was leaving at 8:10 p.m. This already screwed up my plan to be in Indy by 4:30 and hit gym on the way home. Things got worse when my flight was delayed an additional two hours due to storms. In the end, I got home around 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday, and was in bed around 4:45. 

So given the fact that I was getting to bed less than an hour from when I would normally have to go to work, I called in and did my best to sleep through the morning. In the afternoon, I made up for the stress and the missed weight workout by putting in a couple of hours on the singlespeed at Brown County. That definitely made me feel better about life.

After a couple more days at home in which I managed to get both a weight and intervals session in (see, doing my to keep training up when at all possible), I headed to Chicago for a weekend with my favorite Instagram follower. Much like my last venture into Illinois, it was an adventure, and I got to test my limits in a few different ways. 

Instead of a tiny "one-star" hotel room, this weekend's accommodations provided me with my first experience. We had a bit of a rough first night on the plasticy mattress of the unairconditioned third floor apartment bedroom that we had rented, not to mentioned the awkwardness of knowing that a total stranger was sleeping on a couch a couple of feet from the bedroom door. Despite the sticky insomnia, it was still fun and the next morning we were rewarded for our perseverance with the discovery of BBQ for brunch. Heck yeah! 

Yeah, this is a thing. Smoked brisket breakfast skillet for me and
pulled pork Eggs Benedict for him.
I also got to have my first music festival experience at Pitchfork. It was pretty fun, even when the temperature went from hot to cool to raining during the last show, and I got sopping wet in a strapless sundress and started getting chilled. I toughed it out and stayed until the end, though, because that was what I came to do. It helped having someone there to warm me up.

So apparently I walked into the frame of this picture partially clothed and decided that I would somehow make it better by trying to act gangster.
Finally, when it was time to head home on Sunday, I swung out to the suburbs to get in a quick ride with some folks that I had met at the Gravel Metric. We rode CX bikes on some pretty flat, not-that-technical singletrack. It was still rooty enough for me to make a dumb mistake and bite it in the first two minutes of the ride. I scraped up my arm and leg pretty badly and somehow managed to bruise my right sit bone and, ahem, other adjacent soft tissues in the fall. I'm not exactly sure how that happened, but it made getting up and getting back on my bike pretty painful. I still did it though, and ended up having a good time.

So once again venturing into Illinois turned out to be a bigger adventure than I had planned, but even looking back at all that I gained from the last time around, I can't help but think that this time was even better.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Week #28: Doing My Best

It's a Saturday and I'm blogging from Oklahoma. There's really not much point in waiting until Monday to make an update because nothing will have changed training-wise, and I'll be busy with the events surrounding my grandma's funeral. Today I am sitting in my parents' house, not really knowing what to do and thinking that if I'd driven here like I wanted to, I could of at least have brought a bike and ridden today. Of course, when I found out that my grandma had died and that I would be making an unplanned trip home in the middle of summer and the middle of, well, everything else that I've been working through the past few months, missed training was the least of my worries.

It still is, I guess, but I am feeling really unsettled by yet another interruption in my attempt to establish normalcy. I'm also missing the second round of the Tri-State 6 Hour Series, but I guess that's what drop races are for. The homemade plaque will still be mine.

My mind is a little clouded by the silly kind of, "OMG, I missed five days of training and now my season is ruined," thinking that I secretly scoff at when it falls from the lips of others. I'm also a little disturbed by the roughly four pounds that I have gained since I moved in April, because in the past when I gained weight it was because I was depressed, missing training, and binge eating. In this case, it is more that I was ridiculously lean from my obsessive Death March preparation, so just dropping my food neuroses enough to have a normal social life, drink some beer sometimes, missing training for more "strategically important" stuff, and not sleeping too well the past few months were enough to make me gain weight. It just feels like I've lost control. My worries are not so much about the potential outcome of bike races as they are the feeling that I've lost my anchor.

I trained obsessively for a few months as a way to get myself mentally and physically fit for the rough period I knew was coming. It worked. I got to win some Hopslam and make some good memories to cheer me up in the dark period that was to come. Then I took on my real demons, and I made it through that. I'm just really struggling with "normal" taking way longer to achieve than I ever imagined it would.

I just have to keep telling myself that I'm doing my best, and that most of the things happening in this period of upheaval will make for a much nicer "normal" when it does happen. A death in the family was not something that I was really expecting or planning for at this time, so it's especially hard on me because I didn't really have any emotional reserves built up to handle it right now. I'm just trying to struggle through this weekend and tell myself that I'm tough enough to handle it, because I already handled everything else. After this, I will still have some more upheaval of the good kind as I'll be missing training for a good reason. I'll be spending next weekend in Chicago with my "romantic-type male riding partner", but there will be no bikes involved. I'm a little worried about back-to-back weekends away after the stress of this one, but I want to seize the opportunity to see him while he's west of the state of Ohio for the weekend. So family and new relationships can be detrimental to bike racing, but ultimately, they are more important.

In an attempt to do the best I can under the circumstances, I did my first intervals of 2013 earlier in the week, and I'm really committing to getting in every weight workout that I can when I am in town. The last two 6 hour races are just going to be suffer fests, as my longest ride between races #1 and #3 will have been about two hours. I'll survive, though. Then on to cyclocross with maybe a chance to go shred to rock gardens in Pennsylvania in between.

Eventually, I will settle into my new life, nurture my new relationships, manage my single-income household, and figure out how to still rest and train in a way that feels balanced. I'm just not there yet, and the most important thing is to remember to keep trying. I'm building good things here; they just might not be complete in time for me to also to be CX-podium ready in September. And that's okay. I spend too much time worrying about the next couple of weeks, that I keep forgetting how much time I have left to do the all the things that I want to do.

We stopped at a lavender farm on the way back from the airport,
so this is my only interesting picture for the week.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Week #27: I Just Want to Ride Bikes with You

One morning in late May, I was indulging in my daily distraction of perusing the new arrivals on and clicking "Love it!" on way more things than I will ever be able to afford. When I came to the men's t-shirt that said, "I just want to ride bikes with you", it stirred up definite feelings of...something. As I am apt to do with interesting items of clothing, I shared it on Facebook to see what, if any, discussion it would provoke.

It didn't get a lot except for Kristen's classic reference to our ill-fated Death March recon from January and my snide attempt to put my feelings of...something into words.

Only later that afternoon did I start to regret that comment, when I had finally worked up the nerve to make the leap and send a friend request to a preferred Instagram follower who shared my interest in bikes, cats, tattoos, and asparagus (asparagati?). A few days earlier he had shown the initiative to write a good luck comment on my pre-race picture of my bike at the Gravel Metric, and since I'd already had a GM-related influx of new Facebook and Insta-friends based on liked pictures and some brief meetings at the event, I figured I might as well gain one more who had been following #gmrv from his residence in Pennsylvania. Then there was the realization that my snide comment might be the first post he saw from me and leave the impression that I was bitter or something.

Trying to explain the "something" that I was feeling was hard. My comment might be interpreted as my complaining about being single when I hadn't been single nearly long enough to start complaining. For the most part, I considered being a single a good thing, since you know, it was my choice and everything. However, it was more about finally figuring out the things that I'd been missing for years, taking the steps necessary so that I could pursue those things, and being ready to start pursuing them, calendars be damned. 

Meeting a guy who would willingly (and with enthusiasm) ride bikes with me was certainly not the whole of this list of things I wished to pursue, but it did stick out as something that I'd been missing all along and had only recently begun to realize it. As a side effect of starting to ride with other people more, I got to experience how much fun it can be to ride with male friends who can enjoy my company and still respect what I do on a bike even though I'm not as fast as them. I may be betraying my gender, but I have no problem with being told I'm fast "for a girl", and I have no desire to trade blows with the boys on a group ride just to prove myself. That attitude may never make me elite, but I respond better to a carrot than a stick. I'm much more apt to ride my best in a situation of, "You're faster than me. I'm okay with you being faster than me and I'm not going to try and race you, but we're having fun, so I'll ride hard to keep up the best that I can." I had also noticed this kind of attitude among most of my happier couple friends on which many of my aspirations were based.

So what's the point of the story? Well, my Insta-friend must not have taken too much offense to my comment, because many long Facebook messages, a viewing of The Blues Brothers, some baked liver pate', and the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup win later, he came for a weekend visit of bike riding and Bloomington tourism. I showed him around BCSP on Friday and some of the local gravel Saturday, and did my best to challenge the Illinois native's concept of what Midwestern riding looks like. I may have tried to drop him on some mud and downhills, too. All in all, it was an exceptionally good time, and I'm happy to say that right now my aspiration and my reality are looking pretty darn similar!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Week #26: Run Down

I was feeling bad for having so little to tell this week, but still wanted to keep my check-in commitment, especially after delaying my race report until Thursday last week. Then I noticed something interesting when I wrote the title. Week #26. We have officially reach the halfway point of the year, even though this was initially supposed to be a 10-week project. After my crash a couple of weeks and my body-punishing but not-so-great 6 hour race at Versailles, I spent most of last week being kind of catatonic and useless. I've just been so tired all the time with headaches, body aches, and a sore throat. No actual sickness occurred, but "run down" has definitely been my state. The only training I managed this week was a very short, easy road ride on Sunday. 

Then I realized that I just reached the halfway point of the most intense, life-changing year of my life. I guess it's not surprising that I'm worn out. I just hope it doesn't last long, though, because I still have a lot I want to accomplish in the second half of this year, starting with showing a very special out-of-town guest the "flat, smooth Midwestern trails of Brown County" this weekend.