Monday, February 12, 2018

Getting stronger

I'm coming back from a true off-season, which coincided with the winter holidays, three subsequent trips (skiing in Pennsylvania, visiting family in Ontario, driving cross-country), and a coast-to-coast move. My training log from that time looks like this:
Those "walks" are actually skiing. So I taught a spin class, did yoga, went skiing . . . that was it for that month! It felt good to take time off; I burned myself out with racing last year. I did 18 road races between April and August and 15 'cross races between September 10 and December 10. The experience of burning out towards the end of the season has given me a better sense of how much I can race, and I'll apply that this year and in future seasons.

Right now, though, I'm having to re-build my fitness from a much lower place. With the beautiful weather and places to cycle here in Northern California, I'm having to hold myself back from doing more volume and intensity than my body can handle right now. It's also harder to make myself stick to any kind of structure, since the outdoor environment isn't chasing me onto the trainer. I finally broke down and bought a power meter--a Saris PowerTap that is attached to some sick carbon wheels. I'm hoping that will help me structure my training outdoors, and will give me a better way to monitor my training stress so I don't overdo.

The bike fitness was a planned loss, though, and relatively short-term; I knew I would need to slow down, let some fitness go, and build back up for the next season. There's something else that I've lost over the past two years that I didn't plan: strength.

My legs are still strong, of course. One of the guys on a group ride I did last weekend said, "I can see by your legs that you don't like climbing, either," and then we suffered at the back of the bunch together on every uphill. My legs are still strong and powerful, like a frog's! But the upper body strength that I built up over years of strength training in the gym has slowly faded away, as I neglected the weights for the bike. Because who wants to be inside lifting weights when you could be outside riding a bike?!
I would still win this cycling competition, boys.
Chris Froome's arms aside, cyclists still need upper-body strength, especially if they're planning to do off-road events like cyclocross or the Dirty Kanza. Shoulder and core stability are especially important for me, because of my bad shoulder. All of that hasn't been enough to motivate me to get into the weight room, or the yoga studio, or even to do a few corrective exercises at home in the evenings. Over the past 6 months, I've started getting incapacitating headaches, usually the day after hard races or long rides; I think I've lost so much strength and flexibility that my spinal erectors are putting pressure on the base of my skull and causing mind-numbing tension headaches. I've had to stay home from work a couple of times, they've been so bad!

Even excruciating pain hasn't been enough to get me to strength train, though. You know what's made me get back to strength training? Dirty Kanza. Because 200 miles of gravel on a bike with no suspension will demand a lot of my arms and core, and I don't think I have that right now. I don't want to pull out of DK200 before the last checkpoint because I have an unmanageable headache, and I don't want to crash because I lack the endurance in my core to handle my bike well after 12 hours in the saddle.

Ultimately, being strong all over will serve me in my whole life. But I can't seem to motivate myself to train for it except as a means to be a better cyclist.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Things that are happening


There's been plenty of action in my neck of the woods this winter!

I live in the Bay Area now. The weather and cycling are awesome, the housing prices not so much. Actively looking for a racing team, and they all seem friendly and terrific!

I'm applying for doctorate of physical therapy programs to begin this fall. Other than that, not working yet. Lots of free time for exploring the local cycling scene.

I won a lottery entry to Dirty Kanza 200! So I guess I need to put some water bottle cages on my 'cross bike.

If I were a better blogger I'd write more about this stuff, but for right now I'm too busy riding outside in the awesome California weather!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Race Report: BikenetiCX

In which: I get last place, but have a move named after me!

Sometimes, there are no words that will communicate the pain and ecstasy of cyclocross racing. I give you, instead, my race in pictures:
The one in the rainbow stripes comes by them honestly; she's a masters world champion! Photo credit: Dominion Cycling Photography
Having a fine time in the first lap! Photo credit: Dominion Cycling Photography
Still in the first lap, I'm sitting second wheel to the race leader. Photo credit: Dominion Cycling Photography
And now I give you my crowning glory: The Morton!





 And in sequence:
Now let's see it from another angle:


That giant playing card is for a prize, by the way. I don't normally ride with playing cards in my mouth.
And one more, so you really get the idea:
The Morton, that's what the cool kids are calling it! Photo credit: Darrell Parks
You'll probably want a GIF of that.

via GIPHY
And that's pretty much all you need to know about my BikenetiCX race!

(Although, if you're interested, I got last place in the women's 1/2/3 and lost the Sportif Cup by 3 points because I raced the 1/2/3 instead of the 3/4. Even so, I feel this was a fitting end to my MABRA cyclocross career. I mean I have a move named after me. That's better than any trophy!)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Big Changes Coming

I have an announcement to make:

Emily got a job in Northern California. We are moving to the Bay Area after the first of the year!

I will really miss the community I've come to know and love her in the D.C. metro. I'll miss my team, Veloworks-Spokes, Etc.; I'll miss my MABRA women's racing community; I'll miss my Team-Not-Team cyclocross group; I'll miss my workplace, Sport & Health, and all of the wonderful clients I've been privileged to train over the past three years; and I'll miss the beautiful terrain, the dedicated cycling paths, the ability to get so many places in this area by bike.

I'm going into a new environment sight unseen. I'll need to find a new team, a new gym, a new community. I'll need to get to know a new area with new and different terrain. I'll have to explore new bike paths and routes to get around my new home. And I'll have to find a good and trust-worthy bike shop.

I don't know anything about what the racing is like in Northern California. I've heard it's hilly; will I be too fat to do well? I just upgraded to cat. 3 at the end of the road season, and I'm about to upgrade to a cat. 2 in 'cross. Will I be able to keep up with that level in a new and more competitive region? Will I find a team that balances social and competitive well? Will the community welcome me?

I was very apprehensive about moving across the country when Emily was interviewing for jobs. But now that I know for sure that we're moving, I'm very excited! I'm going to explore a part of the country I've never visited extensively (the only time I went to NorCal while attending USC was for the Berkeley Bearathlon, the hardest sprint triathlon I've ever done). I'll get to ride my bike by the ocean and in the mountains. We'll be close to surfing and close to skiing. And I'm already getting back in touch with people I knew in college.

Also, I fully intend to buy a mountain bike once we get out there to fully enjoy what West Coast cycling has to offer!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Race Report: S'Ville Bikes CX & Winchester Apple CX

In which: I do not win

This was my first weekend in the 1/2/3 fields. I haven't yet upgraded to cat. 2; I'll still do Taneytown as a cat. 3. But after that, it will be time to upgrade, and I will have to race with the elites. These races gave me a preview of what that might be like.

S'Ville Bikes CX
Looking at the pre-registration before Saturday, I wasn't overly nervous. All the women registered were people I'd beaten before--which isn't to say that I always beat them or expected to beat them, but I felt like I was in a field that matched my abilities. Then, in line for the port-a-potties, I spotted a familiar face behind me. It was Julie Kuliecza, professional road cyclist and woman who is much faster than I. Besides being a little intimidated, I was also excited to see how hard a professional can go, and how hard I would need to work as a result.

Rain began to fall as we rolled over to staging, and the temperature had plummeted since I'd arrived two hours before. The course was mostly grass, a little uneventful, with a few long, steady uphills and one short single-track section in the woods. With rain falling steadily, I figured everyone now had way too much air in their tires, but at least we'd all have about the same disadvantage. Five of us rolled off in the 1/2/3 field. Julie took the hole shot, and for a while I was on her wheel! She almost slid out going too fast through a corner, which let us all know to be more careful. For a second, I thought I might be able to ride with her. Then she looked back, saw all of us still in touch, and turned on the gas. She rolled right away from the four of us and we didn't see her again until the podium. "Don't go too fast, Julie!" we yelled after her, because we didn't want to have to do five laps.

Teammate Beth was on my wheel throughout the first lap. Going into the woods, I tried to ride hard and take good lines so I wouldn't slow her down or mess her up (Beth is better than I am, technically). Instead, I hit a sharp rock and gashed a huge cut in my rear tubular's sidewall. We were close to the end of the first lap, and a short distance from the pit. I rolled on my flat tire to the pit and switched out for my pit bike. In the meantime, second (Beth) and third flew past me, along with several of the cat. 3/4 women. I came out of the pit still within sight of them, and tried to catch back on. But second and third always stayed out of my reach. The course was so wide open that I could see them dueling back and forth. Lisa would gain on the power sections and Beth would gain on the technical sections. Eventually, Lisa put the hammer down on a hill and dropped Beth. I rode the last lap trying to maintain my gap. I didn't want to catch Beth--both because she is my teammate and I didn't want to knock her off of the podium and because I wasn't sure that I could. But then Lisa dropped her chain and Beth and I both rode past her for second and third place. So we got to share the podium with a pro!
And Beth and I both have the leaders jerseys in the series: her for the 1/2/3 and me for the 3/4!

Winchester Apple CX
Apple CX may be the toughest non-UCI race on the circuit. It has several interesting features, so the course is long and hard, but it doesn't seem long and hard because you're always coming up on another technical section. There's a steep run-up (The Belgian Wall) into an off-camber and another run-up; there are a couple of super-fast single-track descents; there are lots of swoopy turns sections; everything flows together nicely and makes a really cohesive, challenging course!

I had a front-row start with some of the toughest women in the region. My nerves were so bad I was babbling. My hope was to mess up the start so I wouldn't have the pressure of having to hang with MABRA's best. Ever have a morning where you're not exactly tired but you don't feel like enduring the kind of pain necessary to perform well in a competitive race? That's how I felt. I didn't want to subject myself to the sort of hurt those women can dish out.

I really needn't have worried myself about feeling pressured to hang with them; I was off the back after the first three turns. I was so far out of my league, it was hilarious. There was one woman I could have out-ridden; she would put in big efforts on every power section (and I didn't care enough to try to match them) and then I would catch her wheel again in anything technical. But she really wanted it more than I did, and I was content to let her ride off with second-to-last place while I brought up the rear.

With all the 1/2/3s out of sight ahead of me and in no danger of being caught by the 3s and 4s behind me, I set about riding the cleanest race I could. The course was amazing, and it was so much fun to be riding without trying to win. I got DFL at Winchester Apple CX, and no one can take that away from me!

I have had a really good season, and it is nearly at its end. I have Taneytown this weekend, Capital CX the weekend after that, and BikenetiCX to finish everything off. I've seen the podium a few times and even won a few races! I've upgraded from cat. 3 to cat. 2. I'm content with what I've accomplished, and I'll probably take it easy and enjoy riding in the 1/2/3 field for those last few races (even if I'm DFL every time). I imagine next season I'll get frustrated with being at the back, and it will light my fire to improve. Until then, I'm content to bring up the rear!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Race Report: South Germantown CX

In which I get my confidence back

I raced all of the Super 8 (now the Super Series) races last year. But I only raced the Super 8 series races. I didn't do any of the Sportif Cup races. Most of the races in MABRA Land are associated with one of those two series. Since I only did Super 8 last year, there's a whole half of the races in the area that I'd never done! South Germantown CX was one of those.

The course was mostly open with a surprising amount of long, gradual uphill drags. The grass wasn't too thick and the ground wasn't too rough. There was one short, steep off-camber section, but most of the turns were really wide and designed for carrying speed. It was kind of a grass crit . . . which is absolutely perfect for me! It was also about 18° when I started pre-riding. The last race I did was a balmy 65°. This is the first race of the season where I've had to wear gloves. Those kinds of temperatures are bad but bearable, but they came on so suddenly that my body was not prepared.

This was my first time wearing the Sportif Cup leader's jersey, too. It's bright orange and hard to miss, but it entitles me to a front row starting position. I got the hole shot from the start and went off the front right away. For the first quarter of a lap or so, the field was strung out on my wheel. I tried to measure my effort and not go too deep too soon, but the first section of that course is all uphill! I always tell myself I'm going to sit in and let someone else set the pace, but then I end up on the front like a dummy anyway.

I'm not sure how or why I, but I managed to open a gap to the rest of the field. I went hard on the rest of that lap and increased my lead. By the end of the lap, I had a good gap to second place. The course was so open, though, that I could see the race developing behind me. I worked my way through the master's field, and caught one of the 1/2/3 women. My back and hips were cramping by the end of lap two (I've had cramping trouble in training all this week, I assume because it got so cold so suddenly). As a result, I was off and on the gas for the second half of the race. I could see second place behind me, and she steadily gained on me through the first half of the course. Then I would either pick it up on the second half, or the course just suited me better. Either way, starting each lap I could see that I'd grown my lead again. But every time I would think, "Okay, I can probably ease up a little," second place was right there to push me forward again. So I would ease up enough to relieve the cramping, then gun it again to maintain my lead.

Fortunately, my body didn't shut down so much that I had to stop entirely. I rode a clean race, too--not at all like Biketoberfest CX! I felt my rear wheel slipping slightly in a tacky turn on the last lap, but otherwise rode perfect. My two-week break from racing served me well. I feel refreshed. Excited to race. My confidence is restored.

And on that note . . . mid-way through this race, I started thinking that it's time to dip my toes into the 1/2/3 waters. I am still shy of the upgrade points needed to move from cat. 3 to cat. 2, although I'm getting close. And I'd still like to win the Sportif Cup Series in the cat. 3/4, if I can! But I think I will race up in the 1/2/3 for the next race (S'ville CX, if the promoter will let me) and see how it goes. I imagine that I will have my butt kicked, but that's probably a good thing.

Anyway, cross is fun and I like it. The people I get to race with are really cool. Even with no teammates around at this race, I still was among friends. That's a great feeling. We have a good thing going in the women's scene here in MABRA Land.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Race Report: Biketoberfest CX

Wasn't it a beautiful day for racing?
In which I learn why one shouldn't "send it" on a cross bike.

Saturday morning was beautiful for cross. A gentle chill was in the air, but the sky was bright blue and the sun was bright in the sky. I pre-rode the course (one which I'd never done before) and really enjoyed it! One of my teammates had mentioned that there was a lot of elevation change in it. That always worries me, but this was the kind of elevation change that suits me, with mostly short, punchy climbs that reward raw power over power-to-weight ratio. Also, there was only one place where I'd have to get off my bike, and I always love that. If I wanted to run I'd go back to triathlon, amirite?

I got a great start from the front row, but settled in at second wheel behind a woman I know is strong (she beat me at Schooley Mill). She was cornering better than me. I had to expend a little extra power after each turn to keep the gaps down. The whole 3/4 field was strung out behind us, too. I took a downhill left-hander a little too wide and went right into a stake. While I was disentangling my handelbars from course tape, the whole field passed me. I went from second to last, just like that. I was able to work my way back up to third using the power climbs in the first half of the course. Then we went downhill into a little pump section, a double hump where you could catch some serious air. I thought, "I got this. I'm gonna send." So I sent it. I probably caught about a foot off of that jump. And I did manage to land it, although my expensive carbon bike made a horrible sound, my handlebars slipped down, and I crashed (softly). I got up as quickly as I could and tried to adjust my handlebars, but nothing doing.

The position was awkward, with my drop about 3 inches lower than normal, but it was rideable. So I rode it around to the pit and grabbed my pit bike. Friend, teammate, and all-star mechanic Clay was in the pit for me (and teammate Beth, who was racing the 1/2/3s) and he had my A bike back together by the time I came around the other side of the pit. I pitted again and set off to try to re-capture some places.

That went pretty well for a while, and I think I worked myself back up into 4th (although I had no idea where I was sitting in the standings at that point). Another woman and I were trading 4th place--I would pull ahead on the short power stuff, she would pull ahead on the long drags--until the last time going over a log onto a long run-up. I was just about to pass her, but when I tried to re-mount after the log, I couldn't pedal. My rear quick release had come loose and the wheel had unseated. I fiddle around with it while 5th place passed me. I thought I had it fixed and started running with 5th, but when I tried to re-mount, I still couldn't pedal. I fiddled with my quick release a little more. Then 6th place passed me. I finally got my rear wheel sorted. At that point, I wasn't angry or frustrated. Really, what can you do? I rode as hard as I could to see if I could gain any more places, and was able to pass one woman to take 6th in the field.

In retrospect, the racing itself didn't feel that hard. At one point, I even asked myself, "Why am I not going harder?" Like last weekend at DCCX, my brain held me back more than my body. Two stupid mistakes cost me big-time in the first half of the race. And I'm lucky I didn't hurt myself going over that jump; a guy later in the day crashed there and broke six ribs. It would be easy to say, "If only x and y hadn't happened, I would have been on the podium." But x and y didn't happen to me; I happened to me! I made those mistakes, and the people on the podium were able to race clean (or mostly clean).

Even with all that happened, I had a fantastic time. I wasn't mad or frustrated (or crying, like last weekend) at myself; I was laughing! The errors I made were silly, and this is just a game. A fun game with bruises and heckling and beer. Plus, the day was beautiful, the course fun (for me), and the weather gorgeous.

Going into Biketoberfest, I was sitting second in the overall for the Sportif Cup, and the leader wasn't racing. I did enough (just barely) to hold off third place for the lead, so at South Germantown CX I get to wear this cool jersey!
It'll go well with my hair.
I skipped racing Sunday, and I'm not racing this weekend. I look forward to some long, slow zone 2 rides with my team in the beautiful fall weather!