Monday, March 30, 2015

First Gnar

Last week finally brought the long-awaited first gnar rides of the year. I took a PTO day on Wednesday to try and get my stress levels back under control, and in doing so, got very doggedly determined that I would mountain bike that day no matter what. As it turned out, we did get to ride and trails weren’t too bad…for the most part.

Because there was rain predicted for midday, we didn’t get to start riding until nearly 4:00, putting a damper on the hero ride that I’d wanted. In the end, that was just as well. The “cross country loop” starts after about a 15-minute gravel road climb from the parking lot. It then goes slightly downhill through some serious rocky patches before starting a long climb up to the top of the ridge. The first rocky sections still had quite a few annoying snow patches, making the first time trying to ride them since August even more difficult. However, the climb up the ridge and the ride along the top of it were surprisingly clear. Unfortunately, after descending back down from the ridge, the aptly-name section called Lower Trail that follows the creek back to the road was completely covered in snow for long patches at a time. So I did a lot of walking on the last part, and Frank pretty much walked the last half since he cut a sidewall and was without a tube having giving up looking for his Camel Back before we left. All-in-all it was a very typical first ride of the year, taking over two hours to complete 9 miles.

We didn’t ride again until Sunday since our bodies were a bit trashed from Wednesday, and Saturday’s high was about 30 degrees. Luckily, Sunday was sunny and 40’s, so we got to check out Tussey Ridge for the first time since October.

Unfortunately, neither Wednesday’s nor Sunday’s ride gave the feedback for which I was hoping. The real reason that I was so anxious to get on the mountain bike was to see where I was speed-wise on key portions of Rothrock. Even though my race plans keep being pushed back for lack of proper winter/spring training, I was really hoping to successfully complete the long course of the Rothrock Trailmix this year in a non-dumpster time. The reality was that I was super-slow and falling all over the place on both rides. I also have a super-inflamed sit bone that has been developing since I finally got to start riding regularly at the beginning of March, so I’m afraid that I’m going to have to take more time off after finally *almost* getting back on track.

Needless to say, I’m feeling awfully frustrated right now that no matter how many times I keep changing my plans, something new keeps getting in the way. I’m also frustrated with my own frustration because since moving to State College, I’ve definitely fallen into “Old Lindsay” mental patterns that kept me spiraling through a cycle of failure for the first few years of my cycling career. At this point, I feel like I’m almost subconsciously summoning my own bad luck. I need to change my attitude, but I’m just not sure how to do that.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mitigating Damage

To be honest, I didn’t have a very good week last week. I know I’m supposed to be focusing on the positive/improvements, but last week was more about mitigating damage and minimizing how far I slipped back than it was about moving forward. I was still overwhelmed by work stress to the point that I had a full-blown panic attack on Monday night. I still made it to work on Tuesday and did what I needed to do, but indulged in a second beer and pizza night in a week’s time to try and get enough quick-and-easy pleasure hormones going to normalize my brain after the panic attack. I know that it wasn’t the best solution, but it was the best that I could come up at the time.

It got me through the rest of the week, and I was able to catch up on everything that I needed to do. I even got back onto the workout track on Wednesday night, even though the stress and food choices left me exhausted and my digestion wrecked. I was still a mess when the weekend came, and the disappointment of another weekend of no mountain biking due to three inches of snow after a nice two-week thaw did not help any. Even though it felt hard, and the weekend didn’t feel like much of a reward after such a tough week, I still managed to get a lot of sleep, eat well, and get in two good rides on the road.

It made my body feel a lot better, even if I’m still feeling awfully tender emotionally (and not in a nice way). I’m getting a massage after work today and taking another vacation day on Wednesday (fingers crossed for some clear trails). I’m really hoping that I can turn things around quickly and be back to feeling as good as I was couple of weeks so that I can start reporting some improvements again in the near future.

Although I didn't improve much in the big picture, I did PR two climbs on Strava this weekend. I guess that is something.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Are We Out Of The Woods Yet?

Looking at it now 
Last November 
We were built to fall apart 
Then fall back together 
Both our sit bones were a wreck 
That race we couldn't quite forget 
When we decided 
To put on our fleecy pants, 
Baby, like we stood a chance 
Then my old lady strength has us flying, flying, flying 
And I remember thinkin' 

Are we out of the woods yet? 
Are we out of the woods yet? 
Are we out of the woods yet? 
Are we out of the woods? 
Are we in the clear yet? 
Are we in the clear yet? 
Are we in the clear yet? 
In the clear yet? 

This week I give you a bad Taylor Swift parody about the first time Frank and I ventured into the Hoosier National Forest together (the 2013 Gravel Grovel), since we didn’t return this weekend. After seeing pictures of people riding through bottom-bracket deep water, I don’t really feel too bad about that. I actually wasn’t feeling too bad about it before the flood pictures, but knowing that it’s over, and that the pictures have been posted will hopefully make it a bit easier to move on to the next chapter of my life.

I admittedly had some trouble with that during the last week. I braved the rain on my first day of scheduled post-D.S.T. after-work riding out of principle, and then managed a pretty good ride on Wednesday. Then Wednesday night I slipped back into a nasty state of depression, which kind of threw off the rest of my week, although I think it kind of benefitted it training-wise.

While not the actual cause of my distress, I was a bit panicked about having some work that I was behind on for Friday, and trying to focus enough to do what I needed to do well on Thursday after too little sleep and too much crying just wasn’t working. Since the Friday deadline was mostly arbitrary, I came to the conclusion that it was a good time to advocate for my own best interest. I talked to my boss about re-arranging some things so that everything still got done when it actually needed to be, but that would also give me a bit of breathing room. Then I took a vacation day on Friday to hit the reset button and hopefully be able to come back and do what I needed to do this week.

This is where I actually ended up benefitting training-wise. I was able to come home Thursday and allow myself one night of laziness, beer, and pizza, then go out and put in a good, hard ride while the weather was nice on Friday. Then I made up Thursday’s weight session when it was raining on Saturday, and finished with another good ride on Sunday.

Summiting a climb yesterday.

It was pretty frustrating falling back depression-wise, but not totally surprising. I’ve been doing a good job of moving forward and not relying on negative habits as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, the process of finding positive things to replace the negatives ones is slow, and I’ve still be white-knuckling my way through the empty feeling without allowing myself much “pain relief”.

It’s really hard, but I feel like keeping myself “unmedicated” is an important part of healing because it keeps my scanners more tuned for positive opportunities. In a way, I guess it did help, because it forced me to ask for help/support from my boss instead of just acting like I had everything under control, and also reaching out to a friend with whom I’d lost touch because I just needed someone to talk to that badly. At the same time, I wish I wouldn’t let myself get so bad before asking for help. 

The tricky part is that I want to act like I’m okay and not whine about every little thing that’s wrong, because I’ve heard that there’s actually truth in the “fake ‘til you make it” cliché. Even after a “fake it until you fall flat on your face” moment, I’m still picking myself up and doing my best to act as okay as I can as soon as possible, because I feel like my only option is to just keep trying until it works. Last week just provided some lessons about how to do better next time.

Ultimately, I know that the changes have to come from inside me, but support from others definitely makes it easier to keep doing the hard work even when I don’t feel like it. The challenge is how to let people know that I need encouragement while acting like I’m okay. Because the irony is that when I appear to be doing well is probably when I need to be encouraged the most. So the answer is, no, we’re not out of the woods yet, and we probably won’t be for a while.

So even if I look like my “old lady strength” is kicking in, that’s when I need to be cheered for the most.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A 40 Degree Day

That's good. That's like a 40-degree day. Ain't nobody got nothing to say about a 40-degree day. Fifty. Bring a smile to your face. Sixty, shit, niggas is damn near barbecuing on that motherfucker. Go down to 20, niggas get their bitch on. Get their blood complaining. But forty? Nobody give a fuck about 40. – Stringer Bell, The Wire

Once again, a quote from The Wire seemed like an appropriate way to start this week’s post. Also once again, what is true for fictional drug-dealers in Baltimore isn’t necessarily true for cyclists at the end of winter. Perhaps a couple of years ago in Indiana, I wouldn’t have much to say about a 40 degree day in March, but after the winter we’ve had here in Central Pennsylvania, it’s practically summer.

Winter definitely went out kicking and screaming this week, as it continued to be in the 20’s with a lovely ice storm on Tuesday afternoon that resulted in Penn State’s first weather closure since 2007. Strangely enough, things were largely melted by the afternoon, enough so that the wider-shoulder roads probably would have been safe to ride, so I considered taking advantage of my unplanned afternoon off to get in an outside ride. Unfortunately, while conditions weren’t fully dangerous, they were still slushy and unpleasant, and I ended up blowing off the ride knowing that D.S.T. and a string of 40+ degree days were just around the corner.

That brings us to this weekend, where spring finally seems to be emerging. We still only managed high-30’s on Saturday and low-40’s on Sunday, but it was still a huge improvement over the weather of late. I even got away just leg warmers and no fleece tights on Sunday! The riding wasn’t particularly epic, as I came to the conclusion that already being this far behind in my previously scheduled programming, that I might as well enjoy a gradual build-up and just focus on consistency for a while.

With Death March off the table, my spring race schedule has been arranged and rearranged a few times over. We’ve made plans to visit my friends Dustin and Corinna in Grand Junction, CO in May, so we’ll be missing the second and maybe third XC races of the MASS series. With the first race less than seven weeks away, and my training seemingly only really starting two days ago, I’m wondering if I should just delay racing in June. Just getting fit enough to chase those two around the desert for four days is going to be enough of a challenge!

After the last couple of months of training setbacks, I realize that my real goal for 2015 hasn’t really changed. By the end of this year, I just want to be faster than I ever have been before. That might not be a S.M.A.R.T. goal, since it’s not very specific or measurable, but I think it’s a smart goal for me at this point in my cycling career. Rather than focusing on a specific race or series, I want to bring up my all-around level of cycling ability.

Unfortunately, this does mean that I have to quit pretending that the fact that I’m not good at riding on the road doesn’t matter because I don’t race on the road. While it’s definitely true that Strava can be used for good or for evil, I’ve found it (mostly) useful in the last year. Sure I’ve poached a few asinine 90-second QOM’s (gotta keep the spirits up somehow), but mostly it has been a reality check into where my strengths and weaknesses really lie. It also serves a window into what girls who beat me in races are actually doing day in and day out, which is interesting. I still firmly stand by my assertion that different things work for different people, so I’m not going to copy someone else’s training, but it does give me ideas as to what I need to work on more.

Now that I’ve got 40 degree days as far the 10-day forecast eye can see, I can finally start making progress toward my big, vague goal a little bit at a time. Like a 40 degree day, my accomplishments between now and September might not be much to talk about, but I hope that by the end of the summer they add up in such a way that I’m able to break through the level of mediocrity that I’ve been settled into for a few years. And finally, if I put enough 40 degree days together, I might just wake up one day to find that it’s summer.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Daylight Savings Time At The End Of The Tunnel

You only do two days, the day you go in and the day you get out. – Avon Barksdale, The Wire

With Daylight Savings Time less than a week away, I’ve been thinking about the above quote and somehow trying to make it apply to winter, the annual prison sentence of cyclists. The fact of the matter is that the quote just doesn’t make that much sense. I think it’s about suspending belief/disassociating during one’s prison sentence, but is that really the best way to handle things?

Regardless, it seems that winter may finally be coming to an end. My mere hour of outdoor riding yesterday while having icy slush spray my butt the entire time might not be indicative of that, but the fact that I got a different hour in after work on Wednesday and only needed my lights for the last five minutes was. As for the fact that I only logged two hours of outdoor riding this week, that’s not such a great sign for the spring to come, but the fact that I didn’t have that slow, weak, “I’m going to die” feeling that has plagued me all winter seemed like the light at the end of a different kind of tunnel. When I said my Wednesday ride didn’t suck, Frank’s reply was, “I think that’s the first positive thing you’ve said about riding all winter.”

I successfully completed my planned weight training this week, and my two hours of outdoor riding was supplemented by a trip to The Wheel Mill in Pittsburgh, since it was still a little too cold to accomplish much outdoors on Saturday. I was hoping to get more out of this trip, but the place was much more BMX oriented than what we were expecting. I’ve never been to Ray’s, so I’m not sure how it compares. We were definitely the only people there in spandex on XC bikes with clipless pedals, though, and that was a big mistake. Early on in our adventure, I lost momentum on the wooden pump track, slid backward down the whoop, fell off onto the concrete floor, and cut my elbow pretty badly.

My confidence was pretty low after that, and we spent most of the rest of the time in the “basic skills” room after the five-year-old birthday party that was in there when we arrived had cleared out. It at least gave me a time to work on my front wheel lifts which I have managed to remain pretty terrible at despite mountain biking for nearly nine years now and having become pretty decent in other technical areas. I have managed to get by pretty well with my “monster truck” style, but I know that I could be a lot better if I ever developed some more fine-tuned front-end control.

So fast I'm blurry...

Despite my continued low volume of training this week, I guess I’m more focused on the positive than the negative, which is a good sign. I feel like winter will finally end soon and that I will get back into shape eventually. I realized that the first MASS XC is only eight weeks away, and I’m still a little worried about being in shape for that. Really, though, if I don’t feel up to racing by then, I don’t have to. Nothing really matters until September, where I’m determined to make a better run at the whole #eastcoastcross thing in my second season here.

The cycling year ain’t nothing but two days: the day ‘cross season starts and the day ‘cross season ends. I think that may be more true than the prison thing.