Monday, April 24, 2017

It's Going Down

Put my butt over my back tire
As long as they don't touch
Laser focused, bleary eyed
Till the gravity's too much
And I'll do anything you say
Through the cramping of my hands
And I'd be smart to walk away,
But you're quicksand

This slope is treacherous
This path is reckless
This slope is treacherous
And I, I, I like it

The past couple of weeks have been so full of new and interesting gravity-fueled experiences that it has almost negated my disappointment in the TSE 3-day stages. Since my last post, I have experienced my first trip to a bike park, had a private lesson, and made some huge jumps in my downhilling ability on my home turf.

Of course, just this morning I still found myself trying to come up with a scheme to get a timing chip for the TSE enduro stage, because for all of the practicing that I’ve been doing, I really want to see how I stand up against real, live people in the same conditions on the same day, instead of comparing myself to somewhat inaccurate Strava data. At the same time, imagining myself dropping into the bottom part of Wildcat to crowd of people heckling and taking pictures still kind of freaks me out, so maybe it’s just as well.

Even if I don’t make this year’s TSE enduro day, I still have a lot going on lately in gravity world. Frank and I celebrated Easter Sunday by joining enduro-cats Michaela and Sam, as well as their assorted dude friends, for the opening weekend of Mountain Creek Resort in New Jersey. We were quite lucky to have gone on Sunday, as we heard that there were hour-long lines for the lift on the actual opening day of Saturday. When we arrived on Sunday, there were maybe five minute lines, and by the afternoon, you could just walk right onto the lift.

My first downhill park experience was different than I imagined, and it was a good learning experience. The “easy” trails were actually kind of harder for me than the black diamond rocky trails that we went on. We didn’t even see most of the really hard stuff, but the rocky trails that we did attempt were actually at a good level for testing my limits. They weren’t as steep or screaming fast as some of the State College fall-line trails, but they required more complicated line choices and had bigger low-speed drops. I was actually pretty happy with some of the moves that I pulled off on those trails, but I found myself kind of frustrated on the green and blue trails where I struggled on all of the little jumps and berms in the loose, dry dirt. Those trails were very easy ride, but very hard to ride fast, at least for me. I’m looking forward to checking out Blue Mountain after it opens and seeing how it compares.

Last week Harlan Price of Take Aim Cycling was in State College, so Frank and I got to take a half-day private lesson with him on Thursday. I’d hoped to meet up with him down in Harrisonburg earlier in the winter, but that didn’t work out. There are both advantages and disadvantages to taking lessons on your home trails. While it’s a good opportunity to improve at what you ride most often, it’s hard to get better at the things you’re bad at because you never do them. In our case, that means flowy, turny, bermy stuff. It would be nice to learn to flow futuristic some of the more “fun” descents down in Harrisonburg, but I guess we’d still have trouble putting it into practice when we got home. Harlan did his best to give us practice strategies for improving our cornering in the conditions available and for practicing on our “park days”, so hopefully when we race outside of State College we’ll know how handle it. It also seems that I’ve found such a good, stable descending position now that I never want to leave it, so my next step is to start moving around on the bike more.

Whatever I’ve been doing lately, it is working so far. I’ve managed some huge descending PRs and even a few non-descending ones in the last couple of weeks. The two that I’m most exciting about are Wildcat and Ruff Gap. In the last couple of weeks I’ve finally made it the point of descending Wildcat without getting scared and getting off my bike, and suddenly I’m almost fast at it. I also did Ruff Gap for the first time this year and the third time ever on Saturday, and I PR’d it by nearly 2.5 minutes, finishing a frustratingly-close one second behind the QOM. I think that’s really amazing because a) I mostly walked it for the first time 13 months ago b) I haven’t had a bunch of chances to memorize the trail like I have with many of the others. I was going that fast on only very vague memories that weren’t even that accurate. The trail was much longer and more technical that I remember, and not as steep. I definitely want to ride it more, as it’s actually more of a challenge to do well than a lot of our normal Wednesday EWS trails. I also need to do Ross more, as I couldn’t quite get past the slidey leaves/steep drop combo on Saturday without getting freaked out. I guess I'm still not superwoman...yet.

This weekend we will see how my much improved skills in Rothrock translate to trails I’ve never seen before, as Frank and I will be celebrating our first year as husband and wife in the traditional manner of racing enduro followed by eating year-old mountain bike themed cake. We’re heading to Big Bear Lake in West Virginia for the first race of the WV Enduro Series. I’m hoping that a low-key race on similar-but-different trails to what I’m used to might help relieve me of my enduro curse. When I’m riding so well at home I’m often torn between the desire to find out if it translates to less familiar trails and the fear that it won’t and that I will suck when taken out of my comfort zone. I’m doing my best to think of it as a check-up for my progress and not take it too personally if I don’t do well.

Overall, things have been going pretty well for my riding lately, even if this spring has turned out nothing like I planned. The TSE is still going to be a huge sufferfest, but I’m excited about what other possibilities the year might have it store. I’m crossing my fingers that it will all be downhill from here.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Crappy Doubletrack to Nowhere

Here I am posting for a second time this week after a two-three week absence. Events have transpired since I posted on Monday, and I figure it’s easier to just download and move on.

I mentioned in Monday’s post that there was conflicting information about whether the enduro day would be included in the three-day version of this year’s Tran-Sylvania Epic or not. I actually got my answer on Tuesday night after returning from a very fun and successful QOM hunt for cool enduro segments that aren’t on the TSE docket. I might be the first women to have not walked down the “Bald Knob Death Drop”, which might be my new favorite trail. There’s also a whole top half of Sand Spring that isn’t included in the TSE and a baby version of Wildcat that will hopefully improve my confidence for the big one.

Anyway, the news that came after the ride was significantly less good than the ride itself. The enduro had, in fact, been taken out of the three-day, but the replacement was not R.B. Winter. In fact, there was no R.B. Winter at all. Instead, the old Coburn and Bald Eagle stages that were combined into one less-roady stage last year were split back out, and Bald Eagle would be serving as Day 2 of 3. Bald Eagle is just sort of meh, but at least the total riding distance doesn’t appear to be more than the enduro would have been, so hopefully it will not be a super horribly long day in the saddle. In addition to the loss of the enduro, the other big kicker was that a section with which I was previously unfamiliar had been added to the Tussey stage. I just so happened to have already to taken the day off work on Wednesday to make up the long ride that I’d missed by being maybe sorta kinda sick and stuck at home on the couch Sunday, so I set out yesterday to find out what the new section was all about.

It was bad. So bad. Halfway through climbing Thickhead, I veered off onto the Long Mountain Trail which began with what was for me a 20-minute hike-a-bike. I guess it’s probably rideable by much stronger women than me, but still has to be pretty miserable if it is. I’m not against a hike-a-bike for a worthy descent. I mean you gotta climb the “Bald Knob Ball Buster” to get to the “Bald Knob Death Drop” (silly Strava names). Sadly, what lay on the other side of mountain that I eventually crested was only moderately downhill overgrown doubletrack with about a billion downed trees. When I finally arrived at the bottom on Stone Creek Rd., I was supposed to climb halfway up the back of Bear Meadows to Deitweiler, ride UP Deitweiler, and over the tippy top of Thickhead before proceeding with John Wert. What I actually did was get angry and ride back to the car.

An extra thirteen miles of hike-a-bike, crappy doubletrack, and climbing to nowhere were not what I needed in my life right now. Sure, I focused my entire season around what we’ll call 85 out of 100 miles of hike-a-bike, crappy doubletrack, and climbing to nowhere, but it was a fully informed choice that I made from the beginning of the endeavor. It was not the result of a bait and switch a few weeks before the race, when my motivation and confidence were already waning.

What I have inferred based on “[enduro] didn't work out over the weekend” and “there is the reality of what we are allowed to use” is that because when the race dates were changed to allow for an all-weekend three-day, the weekend schedule also came with trail constraints in comparison to last year’s Monday-Friday schedule. Seeing that the change in dates was the first blow to motivation regarding this race, and part of the reason I switched to the three-day in the first place, it’s really salt in the wound that it’s also severely impacting the quality of those three days.

So that’s that. All I can really do is just show up and attempt to make my legs pedal through whatever they put in front of me to pedal. Between now and then, I’ll do my best to get back into shape, because I need to get back into shape, but I’m not going to let preparing for the race rule my life. I’ve been worried about taking time away from Rothrock to do other races or to go ride at downhill parks before the TSE, but from now on, I’m just going to do what I want to do and not worry about it.

I was basically going to do that this weekend, anyway, as I’m going to Philly for a social event that my teammate Sophia is hosting. I hoping to get to ride there on Saturday afternoon, but I’m not sure if I will or not. Then we’re going to the opening weekend of the Mountain Creek downhill park, so my Hail will finally get the chance to really show her stuff. Now that I’ve unloaded the bummer news, hopefully I can come back next week with a clean slate and lot of fun photos of my bike park debut.

Monday, April 10, 2017

It Works If You Work It

I like engaged butts, and I cannot lie
Even XC racers can’t deny
When a girl descends hinged at the waist
With a round thing in your face
She goes fast…

I’ve been a little lax in posting since we emerged from the snowy Lousy Smarch that was getting me down. Admittedly, I’ve been struggling to get back up, even after the snow has melted and warm sunny days have returned.

The TSE is now less than seven weeks away, and I don’t feel even remotely on track preparation-wise. For various reasons, I haven’t gotten in the kind of long rides on the Tussey and Cooper’s Gap stages that I would like, and I’m noticeably slower on my benchmark XC segments than I was this time last year. Admittedly, in past years I would be alternating between focusing on these segments for my Wednesday night rides therefore improving on them at a more rapid pace. I mentally referred this a couple of days ago as “Strava-ing myself into shape”, since I don’t actually do much actual XC racing.

However, since I graduated from XC bikes at the end of last summer, and especially since I’ve been focusing on improving my skills more than my fitness, Wednesday night has become enduro night at the expense of XC riding. Luckily, I am seeing some breakthroughs in that area. I’ve mostly been focusing on perfecting my new and improved descending position on the Sand Spring trail, which is one of the easier stages of the TSE enduro day. It’s steep and loose, but not hair-raising. Since I started improving my balance and position based on the teachings of Lee Likes Bikes, I’ve dropped my PR from 1:45 to 1:26. The QOM is 1:03, set by Andrea Wilson on an XC bike with presumably way less practice than I've had, so I’ve still got my work cut out for me.

I haven’t quite worked my way up to my last summer’s PRs on scarier descents like Wildcat, Old Laurel, and No Name, but I think I’ll get there soon. Those PRs represent the limit of my ability to push through fear and burning quads, but since I’ve learned that neither of those things are actually something you should push through on a descent, I’ve slowed down while I tweak my technique such that they are eliminated rather than pushed through. It definitely seems more within the realm of possibility than it did a couple of months ago, but I’m just not quite there yet.

Sadly, depending on whether you believe the TSE’s Bikereg page or their website, I might not even get to race the enduro stage as part of the three-day. Their website currently has the enduro listed on day two of the five-day, swapping it with the R.B. Winter stage from what was originally advertised. I don’t think I’ll have my enduro game perfected in time for this year’s race, but I’ll still be disappointed if I don’t get the chance to try. The R.B Winter stage is fun and all, but I don’t know that I can handle three long, hard XC stages in a row in my current condition.

Not that the removal of the enduro stage from the three-day will quell our newly-christened Wednesday EWS tradition (we don’t bow down to the UCI of amateur weeknight training rides) in favor of XC rides. I’m trying to adopt the attitude of “ride what you can in the time you have left, and hope for the best”. I put on some spectacular displays of gutting things out last year, and hopefully I can keep it up at the TSE, if necessary.

One of the reasons that I haven’t done as well on long rides as I’d hoped is that I spent this past weekend in a sore-throat, feeling generally crappy state of uncertainty about whether it’s allergies or the beginning of a two-week hell cold. That meant that we did what should have been a 1.5 hour ride at 2.5 hour pace on Saturday, and I stayed in altogether Sunday. I’m feeling about the same, and I still can’t tell which way this thing is going to go. The one bright spot of the weekend was during our slow ride, we stopped to session things that we normally just blow past.

A post shared by Laser Cats Feline All Stars (@teamlasercats) on
I wanted practice riding drops correctly since next weekend we’ll be joining my downhill-oriented teammates at Mountain Creek in New Jersey. For all of Rothrock’s technical features, high-speed drops of any significant size are pretty rare. This one still isn’t that big, but it looks bigger riding it than it does in the video. I’m pretty proud of this, because I’ve been afraid to ride it at full speed before. This time, it felt like nothing at slow speed, so I had to go faster and catch air just to get in the push/pull motion that I was trying to practice. The result is a pretty darn good-looking jump just from a combo of speed, a little unweighting on the lip, and then a good push/pull landing. This practice stuff is actually working.