Monday, March 28, 2016

It Hurts Somewhat Less and You Go Incrementally Faster

I can’t believe that three weeks have flown by since my last post, but with fat bike season over, I’ve been bogged down in the trenches of the “off season”. This kind of cracks me up because I’m to the point that I’ve completely flipped the script on the traditional cycling year. ‘Cross began as off-season winter training for roadies, which morphed into a full-on primary discipline for many amateur American racers who go out hard in September and are hanging on by threads by Thanksgiving. Being a proud member of that tribe, I’m usually ready to sink into longer training in January after losing all of my endurance through the fall. But winter is cold and snowy, so luckily the good folks of the upper Midwest pushed another form “off-season” riding into (sort of) mainstream racing such that I can now motivate myself through (theoretically) snowy winter miles with the thrill of competition. Or just ride fat tires through lots of mud in New Jersey. So what happened to that whole training hard all winter to be ready for spring races? Luckily, crits and gran fondos don’t appeal to be much, so I finally get to lay down my base during that beautiful fresh sunny time of the year when everyone is motivated to ride.

While I’ve definitely been motivated to ride, and have been quite a bit, resulting in being too tired for bloggery of late, I can’t say that I’ve necessarily been motivated to do the riding that I feel like I “should” be doing. As my last post described, my first attempt at beginning my Wilderness 101 training didn’t go so well. It actually turned out to be so bad that I developed a spasm deep in my shoulder so intense that it hurt my chest and throat while breathing for a few days. I turned sour on the W101 route pretty quickly and spent my next two opportunities to do longer rides on the singletrack of the RothRock TrailMix course. I have since made one other attempt at W101 training, and it seems that while getting over Seeger on a mountain bike without it feeling terrible is only Step 1 of like 12 to putting together a decent W101 race, I’m still hung up on that one. Now it seems that each time that I’m “supposed” to make another attempt at Seeger, I start to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, wimp out, and go for a lovely singletrack ride instead.

So what? I'm still a rock star.

Luckily, the singletrack riding is going better than the W101 training. In the last three weeks, I’ve gone under an hour for the XC Loop not just once, but twice, and I’m right on the cusp of my long-held goal of 42 minutes for Tussey Ridge. These are pretty big jumps for me so early in the season, so it seems that my winter did me some good. On Sunday, I did the short course plus Croyle and Gettis which is the most TrailMix that I’ve actually done in one ride before, and I think I still felt better at the end than I normally would after just the short course last summer. I was sort of disappointed that it took me about 3.5 hours, which is about a half-hour too much to be on pace for the five-hour long course goal that I’ve been working toward for nearly two years now. It’s weird seeing how far I’ve come and how far I still have left to go. I had no idea what I was in for when I moved to State College.

Greenshoot, you don't scare me anymore.

When I first saw these sudden improvements, I was reminded of the saying, “It never hurts less, you just go faster.” While it may truthfully apply to time trialing and the like, I think that in my case it does hurt less and thus I am going faster. After Saturday’s ride I realized that I really can’t remember much about climbing Greenshoot, and the fact that I was spaced out yet still going relatively fast is a good sign. Until I returned to it three weeks ago, this long, steep, rocky climb was always an exercise in eyeball-bleeding concentration just keep my front wheel tracking on the trail and continuing to move forward in my easiest gear. Now it just feels like steady threshold climbing and requires way less concentration to not run off the trail. I’m starting to learn that technical skills are actually about 60% fitness.

I’ve decided to just enjoy the singletrack riding while I’m enjoying it and not force myself to climb Seeger again until the urge comes back without the accompanying nausea. With nearly four months left, I still have time for my W101 motivation to come back and perhaps finally meet my white whale TrailMix goal along the way.

Monday, March 7, 2016

You've Got So Far to Go

So we raced fat bikes and it was fun
So, tonight I'll raise my glass to us
'Cause we rode so much
I think we filled our Garmins twice
And I'm super stoked we ended
The series in second place

So, let's ride home, let's be afraid
I wanna climb up Alan Seeger
So hard
Let's do it right and throw in Pig Pile
I want it now, somehow I forgot how

Way to go, way to go
Forgot you've got so far to go
Way to go, way to go
Forgot you've got so far to go

To be fair, this isn’t the first post that I’ve opened with a version of Alkaline Trio’s “You’ve Got So Far to Go”. I actually think of it as “our song” in my relationship with Frank, because minus the smoking part, it pretty perfectly describes how I felt before our first date. It is also the song that inevitably runs through my head near the end of every training ride that does not go as well as I’d hoped.

Yep, it was Ruff.

Yesterday’s first official Wilderness 101 training ride definitely fell into that category. After the long fat bike races that we’d been doing, I thought I’d actually chosen a conservative route for our first foray back into “skinny” tires, big climbs, and rocky singletrack. My original plan was in the 25-30 mile range with one of the three major climbs and the vast majority of the race’s singletrack concentrated into one ride. It wouldn’t be an easy ride, but I thought that the "short" distance would make it doable.

Then I found out that a big chunk singletrack had been accidentally cut out of the 2015 course, the Strava files of which I’d been using as my reference to learn the course. The good news was that the “correct” course did not go down a super steep descent that I was kind of afraid of and did include some fun trails that I haven’t ridden much in the past, due to their remote location. The bad news was that more singletrack meant more time on the course where I had to account for going 6-8 mph instead of 10-12. I was already intimidated by all of the different sections of Rothrock and Bald Eagle that I will need to shove into a singular sub-12-hour effort by July. Adding Upper Sassafras, Sassy Pig, Pig Pile, and Flat Road (neither flat nor a road) into mix feels like a huge increase in effort due to its slow, rocky nature, even if it is just six more miles of distance.

What I forgot when I planned a “conservative” 30ish mile ride after weeks of 4+ hour fat bike races was that “there is strong, and then there is Rothrock strong”. I thought my time away racing fat bikes would bring me back to Rothrock stronger than ever, but I think Rothrock was just mad that I cheated on her, and decided to kick my ass in revenge.

Climbing Alan Seeger is always painful and seems like it goes on forever, but my hamstrings were having a particularly hard time with the unfamiliar bike and the 36 minutes of relentless low cadence grinding. From there, we dropped into Ruff Gap, a rocky, 1000-foot descent over the course of one mile. It was my first time on this trail ever, and my first time on my Lust since Christmas Eve. Add in a bunch of leaf piles on the rocks and cramping legs from the recently completed climb, and it was ugly. Like, walk a lot of it ugly. From there, we sweated through the 1,000 feet of climbing back up to the big singletrack section where I exhaustedly bumbled around and started to get chilled miserable because dressing for mountain biking in 47 degrees is hard. We ended up cutting some singletrack from our original planned ride and it still ended up taking 4.5 hours to finish just under 30 miles.

I’m not sure why the first ride back was such a shock to the system, since I *thought* was in decent shape. If yesterday was any indication, I have a lot of work ahead me between now and July, but I guess it’s good that I was able to jump in and find that out this soon. When you've forgotten how far you've got to go, Rothrock will never hesitate to remind you.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mayhem Fat Four

As I churned through the early singletrack sections of my sixth lap during the Mayhem Fat Four, I began to feel an odd combination of creeping fatigue and elation. While I had been riding alone for most of the race because they started our three-woman field a few minutes later than the men, I felt like I had been riding well and my consistent lap times were evidence of that, despite the fact that the first place woman would be making her way around to lap me soon. She and I were about to be only females to have completed all of the races of the inaugural New Jersey Fat Bikes Series. As I reflected on the long, arduous, and yet only seven week, journey that had lead us to that point, the theme song of the TV show, “The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt” popped into my head.

They alive, damnit!
It's a miracle!
They alive, damnit!
But females are strong as hell.

As a faster and more experienced endurance racer than me, completing the series might not have been as big of a deal for the eventual series champion as it was for me. I know the D&L was basically hell for everyone who finished it, regardless of time, and to keep showing up every weekend to race fat bikes in the mud shows a strong degree of tenacity. In an odd way, it felt better to come in second to a faster rider who put in a strong, dedicated effort than it would have to win the series because I was the only one silly enough to want to.

So my creeping fatigue came from the fact that I’d already been riding a fat bike through punchy, swoopy singletrack at a steady pace for over three hours, and my elation came from the fact that I am now strong enough to do that with relative ease. More importantly, my elation came from the fact that for the first time in three years, I had actually accomplished the thing I had set out to do.

I haven’t felt this good about myself cycling-wise since I spent January and February of 2013 engaging in a different but equal level of self-flagellation to secure a podium spot at Death March. Self-efficacy has always been my greatest athletic limiter, so finding goals with the perfect balance of achievability and meaningfulness is tough. This usually means going for something that is a little weird that faster riders might not want to bother with, say hours of poring over maps, riding the Hoosier National Forest over and over because you have the tactical advantage of convenience, or being willing to ride a fat bike for 9 hours straight, then come back for a couple more four-hour races after that.

The trick is that by allowing myself to wholeheartedly commit to the weird elements and valuable-only-to-me extrinsic rewards of my goals, I can push myself to do things that I wouldn’t do otherwise to the benefit of my more “normal” cycling ambitions. For example, for the last two races of the series, the womens’ placings were pretty much decided within the first few minutes of the race with the series leader and myself in first and second respectively. However, something cool that I discovered after the New Jersey Fat Fondo is that I was actually faster than 15 out of the 30 open men, which really bolstered my confidence. I was having trouble placing that well in the women’s 3/4 field for most of last ‘cross season, let alone against men. I can only hope this translates when I start racing against my own gender and theoretical ability level again.

Frank also moved up into second place in the men's open series after the finale, making us an official fat bike power couple.

It’s actually a bit amazing after the deep depression that I was in during November and December that I was able to pull myself together for 203.2 miles, 21.5 hours, two hotel stays, and one 5:00 a.m. departure, not to mention work, training, Laser Cat activities, and wedding planning all over the course of 7 weeks. I also did this without binge eating, sugar self-medicating, and only one non-travel related restaurant meal. I’m admittedly exhausted both mentally and physically, and I’m relishing the fact that my next big goal will keep me training close to home for a few months. Still, the past month has really given me the confidence in myself that I can overcome the challenges of a daily life, which was something that I was sorely lacking in the fall.

I’m trying to give myself a bit of a breather before jumping too hard into Wilderness 101 training, but I also figure I shouldn’t wait too long to start leveraging the lovely base that I’ve built for myself this winter. The weather is looking like it will be compliant for some good old fashioned rocky, full-suspension singletrack riding this weekend, so it’s time to pull Princess Monster Truck back out to front of the bike pile. With a bit more rest and focus, I hope I won’t have to wait three more years before crossing another accomplished goal off my list.