Friday, September 16, 2016

TrainerRoad Review and Giveaway

In times gone by, I would routinely tell clients, "This is the perfect exercise to do while you're at home watching TV!" It always sounds like a great idea. I could be strengthening my core and building flexibility in my hips while I follow 10 home bakers as they compete around Britain (RIP Mel and Sue)!

But I don't do planks while I'm at home watching TV. I watch TV while I'm at home watching TV. Sometimes I eat potato chips or cookies (or both) while I'm at home watching TV. So I stopped extolling the benefits of planks and bird dogs and other multi-tasking exercises. Because if I can't make myself exercise while I watch TV, who else can?

Which brings me to TrainerRoad. I'm a personal trainer, and I have read and learned enough that I could probably write myself a decent training plan. But you know what? I don't want to. I want someone else to tell me what to do. And since I'd rather buy more bikes than hire a coach, I've gone with the semi-DIY option: TrainerRoad.

I became aware of TrainerRoad through their terrific podcast, Ask a Cycling Coach. The podcast gives me a little bit of a "drank the Kool-Aid" feeling, but I think it's because all of the coaches really believe in their product. And it's always full of useful information presented in an articulate package (which can be a little hit-and-miss with scientifically-based cycling podcasts). After listening in for a few months, I took the plunge and signed up.

So far, I enjoy it. I've noticed an increase in my power and performance on outdoor rides, and my FTP (main power metric used by TrainerRoad) has increased by 20 watts or so. I was using Zwift before, and I miss the gamification elements, but TrainerRoad's workout library is so much better, and it adds more structure to indoor training than you can get with Zwift. As the weather starts to head south (the good weather, that is, to the southern hemisphere), I may sign up for and use both. But right now I use a mix of indoor workouts on TrainerRoad and outdoor rides.

I'm going to need a new trainer soon, though; I'm starting to wear the metal off the drum on the one I've had for the past 8 years. Buy one of my cycling workouts if you want to help me get a new trainer!

Getting back to TrainerRoad, I like it. It's not the end-all-be-all to training, but it's a valuable tool, and it's helped me.

More importantly, once you've been a member for a certain duration, you get a referral month to give to a friend. And you guys are all my friends. So who wants a free month of TrainerRoad? Leave a comment beloooooooowwwww! Be sure you leave me a way to contact you, though, preferably by leaving a Twitter handle. Or you could leave a comment on my Facebook page. Just make sure I can reach you to let you know that you've won and get your e-mail address so TrainerRoad can send you the invitation. I'll choose a winner randomly on September 30, which is in two weeks.

Ready, go!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Race Report: Luray Caverns CX

Hooray for the first real cyclocross race of the season! My last cyclocross race was in 2009. 2009! That was 7 years ago! I have much more fitness now than I had then (it helps that I'm not running and swimming anymore), but the 'cross scene here is way more competitive than it was in Kansas. In Kansas, many race directors would completely waive the entry fee for cat 4 women to try to get more of us racing. I think the biggest field I ever raced in was 13.

Our cat 4 women's field had 17 racers. I think around half of them were doing their first cross race! The women's masters field went off 30 seconds before us, and there were another 9 in that field. There were another 15 entrants in the 1/2/3 and 3/4 fields that raced a couple of hours later. I'd considered doubling up for the 3/4 race, but it was hot as balls and I was pretty sure I would explode if I stayed out in that heat for another 45 minutes of racing.

I got a spot in the second row to start, but took a bad line in the gravel and fell to about 8th wheel. I managed to pass a woman or two in the first quarter of the course. I was sitting about 6th wheel coming into the barriers. Did fine on the dismount and cleared both barriers without eating turf, but I set my bike down with something less than what you might call grace and dropped my chain. Tears. The pit was right after the barriers, so I can in there to get my chain back on. It took all of 10 seconds, but I lost probably 5 or 6 places there. I got back on and started trying to claw my way back.

I went deep on the first 2 laps. Apparently, there was a crash right in front of me on a steep off-camber--I'd decided while pre-riding the course that I would take it as a run-up, after trying to ride it twice and sliding out both time--where a couple of women tried to ride it and failed. I guess I got off and ran around them, but I don't remember doing it. The only reason I remember the crash at all was because my teammates told me about it after the fact. That's how deep I went on the first 2 laps.
Which is why I decided to run this part. Picture courtesy of velogirl22 (follow her on Instagram!)
I picked up a few positions in that crash, picked off a couple more in the third lap, and passed one more (someone whom I've raced in road--Anna--who has ridden me into the ground plenty of times) at the end of that lap. I wasn't sure where I was in the field, at that point, but I figured top 10.

Somewhere in the third lap my psoas started spasming. I've had this happen before in cross races (although I can barely remember that far back) and even while teaching spin classes. It also used to happen sometimes when I was running. I'm not sure what causes it, but the pain is almost incapacitating. I've had to leave spin classes in the middle of of teaching before, it's been so bad. I didn't quit the race in the middle, but I did have to slow down a lot. Anna passed me back, and I could see two more women I'd passed earlier gaining some ground back on me. Standing breaks bought me about 20 seconds of relief, so I stood and coasted on the downhills as much as possible in the last 2 laps. I managed to hang on for the last lap without letting anyone else re-pass me. And that was the race!

I ended up finishing 5 out of 17 women. I was also the last rider who did a full 5 laps. I think I might have been able to finish in third if I hadn't dropped my chain. But who knows? It doesn't matter! First cross race of the season is in the bag, and I enjoyed it. I rode myself into the ground and had two beers afterwards. So I've already got a great start on my season goals.

Regarding the psoas, I think it's a combination of factors: the course was really bumpy, which puts extra stress on my psoas as it works to help my core stabilize against the movement of the bike on the ground; 'cross bikes have laid-back geometry to help with handling, which puts me into more anterior pelvic tilt and compresses my hip flexors; and I'm hammering super hard on the pedals. I need to resolve the issue so it doesn't hold me back in future races. One of my coworkers who specializes in athletic training (I specialize in functional training and stability for older adults, so my needs are a little outside of my wheelhouse) is helping me come up with a core stabilization routine. I'll also work on my pedaling technique to take some stress off of my hip flexors, and I'll make a point of standing and coasting more in races to vary the stress on my body. I suppose in some courses there will be more natural variation, too, which will reduce my time grinding out in a single position. And if it continues to bother me, I may adjust my bike for a more upright position.

Next race is Hyattsville CX on Oct. 2, which gives me 3 weeks to increase my fitness (and adjust my chain catcher)!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Finding my strengths

My quads look exactly like this.
I had three main goals for training this year: find a team, get back into racing, and figure out my strengths and weaknesses. I've achieved the first two, but the third has evaded me. I still don't feel like I have a good handle on what I'm good at in cycling.

In triathlon, I always told people that I was best at transitions, because I didn't think that I was very good at any of the three sports. Of the three, cycling was my strongest and the one that I enjoyed the most.

Because of my background with triathlon, I'm pretty good at time trials. But that time trial skill doesn't carry over into races; I can't hold high power for long duration in races, like in a breakaway. Or the power that I can sustain isn't high enough to keep me away from a pursuing group, anyway. So I'm decent at time trialing, but it doesn't carry over to actual races.

I've considered that I might be a good sprinter, because I'm kind of built like a sprinter--small frontal profile with massive thighs. I've also assumed that I'm not a very good climber, because I'm so heavy relative to my size. But when I think back to this season, I've done well in hilly races. I think I might be a good climber. Sprint-wise, I have an okay kick, but I'm never positioned well enough for it to really matter. So I'm good at climbing, but I lack the right build to be excellent at it; and I'm good at sprinting, but only during workouts (I haven't won any races out of sprints . . . or at all).

Then the other day I did a TrainerRoad workout that got me thinking. It was intervals of 30 seconds overgeared (slow and heavy) followed by a ramp from just below threshold power to just above. And I was really good at them. I could lay down 500+ watts for 30 seconds. In my highest gear and with the resistance cranked on my trainer, I couldn't slow my legs down below 80 RPM. I don't suppose it should be very surprising, considering the size of my quads, but I'm really strong. I think that's my strength, cycling-wise. Strength. I'm strong at . . . being strong. Yay!

Now if I can just figure out how to use that in racing . . .

Monday, August 29, 2016

Race Report: Dirty BikenetiCrit

That's me! Face full of dirt, with my teammate Tina on my wheel.
This was a new kind of race! It was a criterium, but on dirt. Road rules, cross vibe, and free beer after!

I signed up for this race about a month ago. I also signed up for an online chemistry class, and the first lab meeting was on Saturday. It was supposed to run from 8 to noon, and my race was at 11. I'd given up on the hope of getting to go do the race, and was prepared to eat the $30 entry fee.

But then, wonder of wonders, we got out of lab at 9:30! A glimmer of hope emerged. I raced home, threw everything in the car, and drove to Haymarket as quickly as possible. Checked in and got my number at 10:45, ready to roll with 9 minutes to spare!

So I got no warm-up, and I didn't pre-ride the course. I rolled off the line with no earthly idea what was coming next.

The women's fields raced combined. A few of the ladies took the pace out hot, and I managed to catch onto the back. I had a teammate ahead and a teammate behind. I hung in well enough, at the beginning, but wasn't taking the right lines through the gravel corners. In road racing, you get used to following the wheels in front of you, if you know them, but not all of the wheels were reliable on the loose stuff. There were a few times where I missed a corner and had to push hard to catch back on to the lead group. With about 5 laps to go (out of 9 or 10, I don't remember), I went wide in a corner and fell off the lead pack. Drilled it to bridge back on (with two other riders on my wheel), realized I could pull the pin and finish the race or keep going and blow up in the heat, and pulled off. The girl behind me didn't appreciate losing her free ride. She said something as she came around me, and it didn't sound nice. But I was more interested in finishing the race without throwing up.

So I let the lead pack go and treated the rest of the race as an interval workout. Ended up lapping a few stragglers and passing a few for higher placing (including the wheel-sucker with the witty remarks). Ended up 5th in a field of 19, and that was stone cold at the start without a pre-ride!

Great race. Well run. A terrific warm up for the cross season. I hope they do it again next year! I'd definitely do it again!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Product Review: Skinny & Co. Coconut Oil

This is a review of a product that was sent to me by the manufacturer, Skinny & Co. I'm not being paid for this product review, but I also didn't pay for the product. It's a freebie. You can view my unboxing of the product here. Now let's get started.

Skinny & Co. make fancy coconut oil products. Raw, pure, vegan, extra-virgin, wild-harvested, single-source . . . any other catch-words I can include? It's coconut oil, so it's also gluten-free. They also emphasize their charitable work in Vietnam, whence they source their coconuts, and the fact that they recycle a lot.

The packaging is pretty cool. They sent me five of these little jars that are quite pretty. My only complaint is that it's hard to tell which one is which. All the jars look the same, and the product name does not stand out very well. So far I haven't put facial oil in my oatmeal or anything, but I could see it being a problem with this packaging. In this box, I have the coconut oil, body butter, sugar scrub, oil pulling, and facial oil.

If you've read this blog for a long time, you know that I went through a raw foods phase. I'm over that now, and I'll tell you why: it's really hard to do, it didn't make me feel any better, and it's based on scientific quackery. That's part of why I'm skeptical when it comes to the health benefits of things like single-sourced and cold-pressed. But I also really like coconut oil, so I've tried all of the products (even the oil pulling) with an open mind.

All of the products except the sugar scrub look just like this
Skinny & Co. Coconut Oil
Surprisingly, I already had organic, extra virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil in my pantry (because that's the coconut oil that Trader Joe's sells). This coconut oil smells like the Trader Joe's kind, maybe slightly less coconutty. Tastes a little better on its own than the Trader Joe's brand, I think. I've put it in smoothies, and oatmeal. It adds a nice flavor. Seems like a good product.
And this is the sugar scrub.
Skinny & Co. Sugar Scrub
This is my favorite product of the five I've tried. It has a strong flavor of brown sugar, which makes me really want to eat it. The sugar is pleasantly abrasive and washes away easily in the shower. It's a nice alternative to exfoliating products with stupid microbeads, which I don't like to use because of the environmental concerns associated with them. Once the sugar is gone, the coconut oil in which it is suspended remains to leave my skin feeling very soft without feeling greasy. Love this stuff.

Skinny & Co. Body Butter
This is coconut oil with some essential oils so that it smells nicer (and maybe blah blah blah something about the health benefits of essential oils). Except that Emily and I both hate the smell. It smells strongly of black licorice, so I assume there's anise oil in there. It's a nice product, and I like it as a moisturizing product, but I do not like the smell. If you like black licorice or anise, though, you will probably like this.

Skinny & Co. Facial Oil
I was excited to try this product, too, because the skin of my face is frequently dry. It also has lavender and chamomile in it, so I thought it might be good as a natural sleep aid. Unfortunately, it has the same essential oil blend as the body butter, and that anise smell overwhelms everything else for me. I like the way it makes my face feel, though. I can't speak to how well it removes make-up, because I don't wear make-up.

Skinny & Co. Oil Pulling
Have you heard of oil pulling? I hadn't. I've done some research on it, though, and found that it's a traditional practice in Ayurveda (much of the empirical research that's been done on oil pulling is from India). I probably read about it in the Hatha Yoga Pradapika and didn't even realize it. In Ayurveda, it's traditionally performed with sesame oil, but Skinny & Co. sells coconut oil, so they advocate using coconut oil (preliminary research shows that coconut oil is also effective, though). I followed an online guide for how to oil-pull for the first time this morning. Coincidentally, I had a root canal on Wednesday, so my mouth hasn't been feeling awesome. I hoped that the oil pulling would help soothe my gums and make my breath better. It hasn't made any difference so far, but the studies I've read suggest it might not make a difference until after 5-8 days. It's kind of gross, though, and time-consuming. You're supposed to swish a tablespoon of oil in your mouth for 5-20 minutes. Not seconds; minutes. That's a lot of time when you have appointments starting at 5 a.m. I wonder if it's equally effective if you do it before bed.

That's about all I have to say about Skinny & Co. I like the product well enough, although I probably wouldn't have gone out and purchased it on my own. Health and beauty products in fancy little tins aren't really my thing. I do like the sugar scrub, though. I may even keep using that.

For more info on Skinny & Co., you can visit their website here. If you have other questions you'd like to ask or are a raw foodist who wants to attack me as a heretic, please do so in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First ride on my Crux!

The dam at Lake Accotink Park
After a course of heavy-duty antibiotics and Vicodin, I'm completely over my root canal from a week and a half ago. I go back to the dentist tomorrow to close my crown up. Since the pain wore off, though, I was finally able to get out on my new bicycle!

One of the best parts of living in Northern Virginia is the terrain. Even in the developed, suburban area where I live, there are still parks full of greenery and quiet trails. I headed to one on Wednesday to remind myself how to ride off-road.

I took a few little spills, got mud and sand (and a little blood) all over my legs, and completely ruined a white jersey. It was a successful outing! You can see the highlights, which is mostly footage of me falling or nearly falling, below. I still haven't figured out how to record good footage with my action cam, so I didn't include the whole ride. If you'd like the full 45 minutes of footage (and I don't know why you would), please send me an e-mail; I'll gladly share it.
On Friday, I tried a trail that's closer to my home--the Pimmit Run Trail. I did many miles of run training there last year and the year before. The trail is too technical for me to ride, though; I only went a few miles before aborting the mission and coming home on surface streets. After that, I set up cones in my backyard and practiced flying mounts and dismounts. I'll post that video this weekend.

Until next time, spin & smile!

Sunday, August 14, 2016


I promised last week that I had an announcement related to the upcoming cyclocross season. Well . . .
I got a new bike!

That's a 2017 Specialized Crux E5. The groupset is Shimano Tiagra, with stock wheels, cranks, bars, stems . . . it's not a high-end bike. But it has disc brakes! And mud clearance! And good gearing for cross! So it's enough that I can go out and have fun. I may have mentioned that my goal for the cyclocross season is to hurt a lot during races and drink a lot immediately after. I can do that just fine on aluminum and Tiagra.

I had an emergency root canal on Thursday (only two hours after I picked up my Crux at the shop), and I've been resting with the help of Vicodin ever since. So I haven't even gotten to ride it yet, other than hopping on to adjust the seat height and angle a little bit. The pain is subsiding a little, so I hope to be on it either this evening or tomorrow sometime.

Many, many thanks to Jack at Spokes, Etc. (VWS's sponsor shop), for getting me set up with a brand new bike! If you live in the greater DC area, I highly recommend stopping in at the Spokes on Quaker Lane (near Shirlington). The crew there is friendly and knowledgeable, and they can help you with whatever you need.

New bike! Yay!