Monday, September 30, 2013

Week #39: St. Mary's CX

In the days leading up to the St. Mary's CX race, I began to grow excited about the rainy forecast and the rumors of mud. We went all last season without a proper driving-rain, sloppy mudfest. Arriving at the course, I could see that all the expectations of the previous days had been met, and a practice lap left me with the impression that this could actually be the most difficult conditions in which I had ever ridden. The Kings CX course in 2011 could be considered harder because of the long forced run up to the finish line, but as hard as that was, you knew you *had* to run it. Yesterday's course didn't contain anything obviously unrideable, but there were many features that proved deceptively hard.

The difference between yesterday's race and my previous mudfest experiences was that instead of the front and center call-up that allowed me to sprint out of harm's way before the carnage ensued, I was stuck in the fourth row for the start. Since I knew I wouldn't be able to stay in front of the carnage, I decided to not waste my energy on an aggressive start and give myself space to navigate around the carnage and try to pick off as many people as possible as they made mistakes. However, there were much fewer mistakes happening in front of me during the first few minutes of the race than I expected, and I wasn't seeming to gain that much time from the ones that did happen. I also made a couple of mistakes myself while trying to predict the moves of those in front of me. 

By the middle of the first lap things were already spread out so far that I really only had one girl within sight that I might still be able to pick off. I was riding better than her technically, but I just wasn't really able to shut down the gap, and I started to realize that I just didn't feel that great physically. There wasn't anything specific that felt bad, or even an especially strong feeling of pain or heaviness in my legs. I was just missing whatever it is that normally makes me fast in mud. There was no plowing through the slop and holding it steady when my bike bounced and shuttered beneath me. Just pathetic slogging and weaving. I really only did well on the super low-speed technical parts where I could "make it", but at the cost of going 2 mph. My talent for letting it slide *just enough* through the corners and saving it at the last second barely came into play, because I was never going fast enough for cornering speed to be in an issue.

So it was kind of a bummer to not race well on such a muddy day, but I didn't get too upset about it. I'm really trying to come to terms with the fact that this season I am truly just racing for fun. It's just hard to remember that sometimes when the "fun" hurts that bad. If there is anything to be learned from the women who are 10+ years older than me and 10 minutes ahead of me, it is that I still have many years left to race cyclocross. So if this season, and maybe even next season, don't go so well while I'm making big life transitions, that's okay. For now I just need to not let my fear of being slow interfere with an otherwise fun experience.

A rare tongue-free, and even flattering, race picture

Yeah, this is more what the real me looks like.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Week #38: Petulant

Last week was my first successful week on my "in season" training plan that I hope to keep up through the end of cyclocross. While it might not be ideal, I really don't have a lot of faith in my ability to improve a lot once the season has already started, unless the "race into shape" phenomenon takes place. The sparse early season OVCX schedule, my visitation schedule with Frank, and my mother's annual fall visit are all conspiring to make September and October very light on racing for me, and will likely provide very little chance fore "racing into shape". Therefore my bigger goal is just to maintain and possibly improve general fitness (as opposed to race fitness) throughout the season, so that I have a better base when I start my Death March training in January. Yeah, those plans are being made already.

So the plan is as such:
Monday - easy weight session
Tuesday - recovery ride
Wednesday - intervals
Thursday - slightly harder weight session
Friday - off
Saturday - openers
Sunday - race

Of course, this includes several non-race weekends, so in those cases I'll just do what I can in the context of whatever's preventing me from racing. If I'm in PA, then it might be an underground race or less tortuously climby gravel ride. If my mom's in town, I'll probably just lose those days, and just have to deal with it. This past week, however, I did all the weekday stuff as planned, but the main thing that kept me from racing was the lack of a race within a four hour radius.

I debated between using the off weekend for interval time or social time, and decided social time was more important. I went to Indy for a ride with the Wheel(wo)men, but unfortunately it turned out much longer and harder than I hoped. That broke me a little bit, because I have to be in the right head space, with the right people, and usually on gravel for hard endurance efforts of get dropped, catch up, get dropped again to be enjoyable. September, in Indy, on pavement, with no immediate need for that kind of riding is not conducive to achieving this mindset, either. In the end, it did turn out to be Type II Fun, I got to see my teammates, and maybe it put a little deposit in my Death March savings account for spring.

The other part that made enjoying the longer and harder than planned effort more difficult was that I had only made it to that point in my successful training week at the cost of developing a very petulant attitude towards, well, everything. I did everything I was supposed to do training, eating, and financial-wise, and was left feeling utterly deprived of pleasure by the end of the week. I struggle a lot with the grown-up me focusing on doing what was necessary for my long-term well-being, while my more impulse-driven self got kind of depressed about not having much to look forward to at the end of the day. I'm still struggling with this quite a bit now, although the weekend did offer some relief.

Once again I'm turning to the lessons I learned last winter while preparing for the Death March. I look back on those days with rose-tinted glasses now, because I feel like I was my best self for those few weeks, but when I really think about it, most days during that time period sucked. At best I could look forward to my weekend rides after drudging through a lonely and boring Monday-Friday, and at worse even the weekend would only bring cold, solo rides where the only reward was fine-tuning the route or seeing an improvement in my speed. That was why I made the commitment to blog every week, because it forced me to be accountable when sometimes writing down that I'd had a successful training week was my only reward.

Now, after the upheaval of the past few months, it is time to settle in and start working towards a new goal that's bigger and better, but also further away and less defined than some silly bike race. (And also towards some silly bike race, 'cause I'll be damned if I get knocked out of that precious top-three spot now that I've established my place there.) I've always made up for missing what I really want and need in life by substituting shallow, impulsive pleasure, because I didn't think I could ever have the real thing. Now I know I can, but it will require sacrificing some of that impulsive pleasure, which will undoubtedly make me a little pouty for a while. But for the first time in my life, the "HTFU" isn't just suffering for the sake of suffering or to look tough, nor is it directed toward a goal that deep-down I don't really believe in my ability to achieve (think the Pisgah stage race or any of my previous 100-mile mountain bike attempts).

At the age of 32, I finally saw what it was like to set an achievable goal, put in the work even when it meant days of pouting, or crying, or a million cray cray texts to Kristen, and in the end achieving the goal. So to my impulsive, petulant self I say: It will be okay. You've proven you can win at Death, now it's time to win at life.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Week #37: BloomingCross

True cyclocross season has arrived at last, complete with the Monday morning picture-tagging scramble. It seems that 37 weeks was not enough time for everything to fall magically into place for a season of CX dominance. Really, I didn't feel ready at all, but I was also tired of waiting. 

In the end, the weekend was double-awesome for me, because it was not only the start of OVCX, but it was also Frank's first visit to Bloomington since July. So honestly, I wasn't so much excited about my own race as I was about this:

My 'cross protege did quite well in his OVCX debut, and I think he did an effective job at charming the crowd around the Shamrock tent, even if the case of Yuengling that he brought was deemed a nice gesture but generally unimpressive. I can't say how great it was to be among my 'cross family again and to also have him by my side. I had an odd moment where I went back to my tiny lime green car, saw a large white Cannondale leaned against it, and realized that this is all real. It's not just some game of pretend that I've been playing all summer. New life, new season. 

Of course, there was the converse moment where I chose not to hang my bike next to a different large white bike on the rack because I didn't want to offend anyone with my bike cooties. The first race of the season was not without its moments of awkwardness, but overall I felt many of the fears that I've had all summer were relieved by the experience. 

Yeah, the 'cross tongue is back.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Life, stuff, things. "How was the race?" you ask.

It went pretty okay for the first 3.5 laps. Of course, it felt awful like the first one always does. The fact that I raced three weeks ago did very little to relieve that, as any progress toward the pain ignoring ability that develops through the season had already worn off. The only advantage is that I feel much less trashed in the aftermath than I did after Relay Cross, so perhaps it helped my recovery, if not my pain tolerance. 

Anyway, I mixed it up pretty well in solidly not-last place, and was performing at "exceeds expectations" levels (given my expectations were super low). Unfortunately, since barriers are obviously not my friends this season, I tripped over the very last one of the race, smashed my face on my stem, and lost three places. However, since there is really very little difference between 25th and 28th place, I just counted it as a good effort, was thankful to still have all my teeth, and resumed my training on Monday with the hopes of building upon that effort.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Week #36: Bedazzled

I almost didn't post this week because it was such a wash training-wise, but I've come so far, so why break the streak? In just one week I'll have all sorts of cyclocross content, right? 

Anyway, I was pretty lazy this weekend except for witnessing the lovely wedding of two cyclocross friends (and blathering on and on after about how good their vows were). Otherwise, my biggest cycling accomplishments were cleaning my bike up from Relay Cross and completing the bedazzlement of my "new" short sleeve skinsuit for the season. So with the OVCX opener days away, I'm not sure if I'm set to perform any better than last season, but at least I'll be in more flattering apparel.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Week #35.5: Excuses, Excuses

I'm really late with this week's check-in, and even now, I have very little to say. Last week was spent mostly recovering from Relay Cross, which took an incredible toll on my body. I didn't really do much of consequence until Saturday when Janelle wanted to try out her new singlespeed, and I broke out in the Karate Monkey for the first time in weeks. It was stupidly hot, and we elected not to do the main climb of Aynes, but I still had to take a rest break just getting up the short part to Green Valley. That was embarrassing, and I definitely hope that it was just the heat or lingering fatigue from the race bringing me down, and not that I've become *that* out of shape in the past couple of months.

Sunday was my first ride plus gym double workout day since pre-Death March. Both were short and easy, but since I'd had so little of each in the past days and would spend Monday driving to State College, I had a hard time choosing which was more important.

As I just said, I was driving to State College on Monday, so I had very little time for blogging, and was hoping my visit would produce more blog material. However, this visit was just a quick trip to spend a little time with Frank to break up the long five-week stretch between my last long visit and his visit for the OVCX opener, which will take place in Bloomington this season. So I basically spent 18 hours of driving to have dinner and spend the day with him. Totally worth it.

Mushu is either protesting my leaving or the suitcase is a really comfortable bed.
Clemmie is protesting Mushu getting to enjoy anything for more than four seconds.
We did get in a short road ride of Bloomington-like difficulty level. I had great intentions of doing hill repeats, but the nine-hour drive in my legs made one pass up the main climb of the route plenty. The scenery mostly included the "port-a-potty farms" (empty tailgate fields), and the lovely State College airport, so there were no scenic vista selfies to be had this time.

So the only pictures I have this week are my cats protesting my departure and the duck that we cooked for dinner Tuesday night. After setting the tone with first-date baked liver pate', culinary adventures have been our thing just as much as cycling adventures. So when we went to the farmer's market and Frank's favorite meat supplier had one duck left, we decided to give it a shot. The guy said to cook the legs and breast separately, but I was stubborn and just rigged up some foil legwarmers (leg coolers, really) to promote even cooking. It totally worked out, and the duck was delicious. It was also good thing that we cooked the whole thing at once, since a 3.5 pound duck surprisingly has barely enough meat to feed two carnivorous people for one meal.

So that was my week (and a half): Training, meh. Other stuff, pretty cool. Sometimes that's how it goes.

Roasted duck, Flashdance style.