Monday, March 27, 2017

Race Report: Black Hill Circuit Race

In which I get one of the bad races out of the way for the season.

This one didn't go how I wanted.

My training has been going fantastic so far this season. I've felt strong and getting stronger. My FTP is increasing and my weight is decreasing. I felt like I was bringing really good fitness into this race. But I was also using it as a training race, so I didn't even rest the day before; I did about an hour of pre-race openers with an hour of endurance before and another hour after. I had a good dinner last night, a little heavier than normal, and two beers--I hadn't had beer in about a month!

The women's races weren't until 12:30, which meant I got to sleep in a little later than normal. I had toast and peanut butter with honey for breakfast, two cups of coffee, and water in the morning. I did 20 minutes of easy spinning around the course with teammates and then another 20 minutes or so on the trainer to warm up. I had about 20 minutes of sitting around before the race started.

The course was rolling with smooth, flowing turns; it had one long-ish hill and one fast descent, with gentle undulations through the rest of the course. Our team (four of us, today) started together and rolled out near the front of the bunch. We controlled the group up the hill the first time, and the pack held together. The pace was fast but not unbearable. The second time up the hill, my quads started burning, but I figured they were tired from my ride the day before and it would pass. I was falling off the pace a little, but didn't lose touch with the pack. Legs still hurting, I lost contact the third time up the hill. I didn't worry though; I figured I could make up ground on the descents.

I never did. My quads felt tighter, and then my shin muscles started to cramp. I tried to breathe deeply and relax as many muscles as possible. There were 3 or 4 of us off the back, not out of sight of the peloton. I managed to come around one of the other women (a lady from Baltimore Bicycle Club) on the uphill; she said she'd like to work together to try to catch the group, but wasn't sure how. I told her how to trade turns (in between gasps for air), and flicked my elbow for her to come through in the transition from fast descent to long uphill (I figured it would be better for her to try her first turn at an uphill pace, without having to worry so much about getting blown off my wheel on a descent). As we passed my team cheering from the sidelines, they told us we were gaining on the group and could probably catch them!

But close to the top of the hill, the cramps moved from my quads and shins up into my psoas and abdominals. I've had my psoas go into spasm before, and it's nearly the worst pain I can remember feeling (anaphylaxis is slightly worse). In my mind, that's what passing a kidney stone must feel like. I told the woman from BBC to go ahead, because I wasn't going to be able to hold any kind of pace any more (and I felt bummed, because I wanted to help her work on those chasing skills!). Catching the field was out of the question for me; finishing the race was the best I could hope for.

I had the same kind of pain at Rockburn CX last fall. I thought hard about pulling out of that race, but ended up finishing the last lap when I got the bell. The spasm passed, and I was able to start riding hard again towards the end. Ended up coming back from about 20th to finish around 15th. I figured I would try to ride easy for a bit and see if the pain passed. Optimistically, I might still be able to pick off a few riders for better placement.

But at the end of that lap (5 of 10, I think), the writing was on the wall. I pulled myself, rode over to my car, unclipped, and flopped down on the ground. My hips and abs still hurt really bad. Lamaze breathing helped, a little, to make the pain go down, and I did some stretching. After 10 or 15 minutes, the pain had passed. I got my recovery apple and drink mix and went over to finish watching the race with my team.

Even so, Black Hill was a successful day for us! Two of my teammates finished 3rd and 4th (the other had similar problems to me, and pulled herself shortly after I did)! It may have been an inauspicious beginning to the season for me personally, but it was a strong start for the VWS ladies!

In terms of lessons learned from this race, I'm not sure what caused the cramping. It wasn't just muscle fatigue, because the problem was systemic--at one point, even my cheeks were cramping! I'm not sure if it's something I ate (or didn't eat), something I drank (or didn't drink), if I trained too hard the day before, didn't warm up well enough the morning of, or if it was too cold for my body. I'm not sure how to address this problem so that it doesn't happen again. Or maybe it was just a fluke, and I shouldn't worry about it too much. I think I need to do some research on systemic cramping.

The psoas thing is something I've felt before, too. When I was in college (and not in great shape) I seemed to get that consistently when running. I've had it multiple times when running and cycling, including last CX season at Luray and (like I mentioned) Rockburn. I'm not sure what causes it, but I think it's more than just cramping. Maybe it has to do with how far my hips tip forward. I hope that's the last I see of it this season!

Congratulations to my VWS teammates who raced today! Next week is Jeff Cup, and I'm already excited to race again!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Jamie's Diet Food: Sweet-potato chickpea patties with sriracha-yogurt sauce

Growing up, little hellion tomboy that I was, I did not expect that I would spend any time, let alone multiple hours a week, on a website* frequented by housewives and mommy bloggers. But I really like Pinterest. I spend a not-insignificant amount of time looking at pictures of color palettes, seasonal decorating ideas, cute pet pictures, and cilantro-lime-avocado-quinoa-whole 30-paleo-vegan-friendly-gluten-free-anti-inflammatory recipes. Seriously, all the recipes are like that. Somewhere, there is a random generator with all of those (search engine optimized) words that spits out ridiculous recipes.

There's a class of food and mommy bloggers out there (mostly on Pinterest) that have blogs that all look exactly the same: they're all on white backgrounds with an Instagram-worthy picture in the right-hand column and a cute, quippy "about me" section. They all have beautiful food photography that they've done themselves. They all write several paragraphs of backstory (which I scroll past) about the recipe that they're showcasing, interspersed with these well-lit, well-arranged, composed pictures of food. And almost all of these blogs are written in the exact same voice; I wonder if this is an SEO-approved way of writing, or if it's because they've all learned how to write from each other.

Good on them for having a blog and trying to make money off of it, but if you enjoy snarking at such creatures, you'll probably enjoy watching The Katering Show on YouTube. Hilarious.

I have no well-composed pictures of my dinner (and if you've made it this far, you're already through the backstory part), but I do have this recipe from The Kitchn that I tried a few weeks ago and really enjoyed. That link has a relatively short amount of backstory and only two well-composed food pictures; and it's from an online "magazine," rather than an individual's food blog. There is still an Instagram-worthy picture of the author, though.

Enough of that. Here's the recipe, adapted slightly from The Kitchn's version:

For the patties:
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium sweet potato (about 8 ounces)
1/2 medium yellow onion
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon fine salt

For the yogurt sauce:
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce

1/8 teaspoon fine salt

Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans (did you know cicero is Latin for chickpea?). Do not use a potato masher to mash them; it will take forever. Instead, dump the beans into a food processor, along with the onion, grated sweet potato (you could probably just chop it in the food processor before adding the beans, because grating a sweet potato takes forever, too), breadcrumbs, egg, garlic, and cilantro. Pulse the food processor until you have a fairly uniform paste. The original recipe also calls for cumin and smoked paprika, which I forgot to add; the patties tasted fine without it, but I'm sure they would be even better if I'd remembered to season them.

I pan-fried these on a non-stick skillet with no oil to keep the calories down. Next time, I'll try baking them in the oven. These are very fragile, so go slowly and carefully or you'll end up with hash. Scoop out a quarter of a cup of the paste, pack it into a tight ball with your hands, then squish it down into a patty shape. Carefully lay it in a skillet on medium heat. The patty will change color as it cooks, from orange to a yellow the color of curry powder. Cook the patty until that color change has gone more than halfway up the side of the patty (should take 3-5 minutes) then CAREFULLY flip to cook the other side. The patty should be golden brown, not dark brown or black; if you get dark brown or black, turn the heat down on your skillet. This recipe made 9 patties for me.

The sauce is easy: mix everything together. We had these like falafel patties, with flatbread (homemade, thank you very much), sauteed cabbage, pickled onions, and the sauce on top.

We got a computer, 26.8 k modem, and AOL when I was 8 or 9 (before that, we had a Commodore 64). The connection was so slow that the only sites we could consistently access were AOL message boards and fan sites. Do you know which ones I spent my time on? Star Trek and Babylon 5. I was a really cool kid.

Monday, March 20, 2017

New Bike Fit!

In the past two years, my body has changed. Part of that is down to being over 30. Part of it is my change in sports--no more running and swimming! Part of it is that I don't teach yoga multiple times a week anymore, and my flexibility from the time when I did teach 5-8 classes a week has now completely worn off.

When I first got my Felt AR5, I had a bike fit at my local shop Tri360 (which has since closed). The fit was from a F.I.S.T.-certified fitter, developed by The F.I.S.T. fitting system is very tri-centric, designed at a time when most bike manufacturers weren't developing bike geometries specifically for cyclists who need to be super-aero but also need to be able to run after riding. Which is to say that my bike fit, while very helpful for the Ironman training and racing that I did right after I got it, didn't suit my new path as a roadie. In fact, when I started road riding and racing again last winter, I re-tooled my fit on my own to be more road-friendly--both to increase my comfort and handling confidence for road riding and to stop my teammates from making fun of my triathlete fit.

But over the course of the past year I've gotten less and less comfortable on my saddle (a Cobb Gen 2 that was great for a TT position, but not very nice to my hoo-ha with a more laid-back road position), and I felt like I was limited in how low I could get over my bike. I tried messing with my handlebar position, my hood position, my saddle set-back; I had an overwhelming feeling, even after short rides, that I could be much more comfortable on my bike if I changed things around, but I was too lazy to put the time and effort into dialing my fit in myself.

So I outsourced the task to my sponsor bike shop, Spokes, Etc. Enter Anna, Spokes's pro fitter!

Anna is certified through Specialized's Body Geometry fitting program. I've been fit by a Specialized fitter before (back when I got my Specialized Transition). I like the Body Geometry system! It seems very thorough, much more so than the system (and yes, I know), like it takes more components of my individual body into account.

Here's a little before and after. See if you can tell the difference.
This is actually from right after I bought the Felt, not right before the fit, so it's not exactly how I had my bike set up before Anna worked on it.
And we live in a different house now. Notice the change of flooring!
There aren't a lot of obvious differences, although the one that stands out to me the most is the different in reach. The stack looks lower in the second picture, doesn't it? That's weird, because the saddle is much higher now than I had it right before. 

Saddle is lower, handlebars and stem are lower and rotated towards me slightly.
The pictures are kind of deceiving, because the only before picture of my bike I could find was from right after I bought it, before I had it fit for the first time. The changes we made this time were 
  • Raising the saddle
  • Moving the saddle back
  • Lowering the stem
  • Rotating the handlebars forward
  • And adding a new saddle
I'm now on a Specialized Power Saddle and it's working for me pretty well. It's still not perfect, because balancing on a few inches of plastic/carbon and leather for several hours is not comfortable. But the saddle seems to hit me in better places, and I've had less trouble with chafing and saddle sores since switching from the Cobb saddle. I can get really low with this fit without my chest and ribcage getting in the way of my legs. Some of the soreness in my piriformis and right hamstring has cleared up, too. This fit has worked out really well for me (and it's roadie-approved)! Big thanks to Anna and Spokes, Etc. for the much-appreciated service!

If you've never been professionally fit, I recommend it. It'll run you $100-$200, depending on the shop you go to, but it makes a big difference in how you feel on the bike. For my money, not having saddle sores and chafing in my lady-parts is well worth the cost (and it's an easy sell for spouses/partners if you have to convince them that you need to spend the money, if you know what I mean). Most shops will give you a free or discounted bike fit after you buy a bike from them, so check into that if you're in the market for a new bike.

I'll try to pull together some information on bike fitting and saddle choice soon, so if you can't swing the cost of a pro bike fit you can try to at least improve your position on your own. With that, thanks for reading!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Coping With the Flu

I was going to go to Williamsburg, Virginia, to race the William & Mary Tidewater Classic (last year's race report here) this weekend, but instead I decided to get the flu.
Check out my stash. Anyone in Big Pharma want to sponsor me?
I had the flu at the end of November, too. Both times, the illness coincided with being in Canada or around Canadian relatives. Those Canadian germs must be really tough! Polite, but tough!
Canadian germs, like the Mounted Police, are tough but polite.
But this post isn't just a forum for me to whine (I subjected you guys to enough whining in the Monster Cross Race Report)--I also want to be helpful! So here is my brief rundown of all the drugs I have taken, and how effective they've been. Please note, however, that this post in no way constitutes medical advice. If you're sick, go to the doctor. If you're interested in my pain and down for a laugh, read on.

For reference, my worst symptom with this year's flu (both times I've had it) is body aches all over. My muscles and joints are so sore that I can barely get out of bed. It hurts to eat, swallow, poop, urinate, and breathe. I also have a sore throat and sinus congestion and headache, but the all-over hurting is really the worst part. Without further ado, here are the things I've tried:

Nyquil (not pictured)
I only got half a dose of Nyquil because Emily had taken it all last week (she'll get me some more tonight). It did a good job of relieving the body aches enough that I could fall asleep. Unfortunately, it stopped working after 4 hours, at which point I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep because everything hurt.

If you've never used Salonpas, they're pain-relief patches that stick on the skin and work like icy hot. These were surprisingly effective, but they didn't cover enough territory. They are advertised to last for 8 hours, but mine stopped working closer to 6 hours in.

Tylenol PM
This is what I took after the Nyquil wore off (since we didn't have any more). I know from experience, having slept through work once, that the sedative part is powerful, so I only took one. But the pain relief part wasn't strong enough to keep me asleep, so I dozed fitfully after taking it.

Really helped with the nasal congestion and sinus headache, but not the all-over body aches. It's the thing that has cleared my head enough to be to write this, though.

I think this is what helped my sore throat and headache more than anything. It helped the body aches some, but not enough on its own to get rid of them.

Alka Seltzer Cold Plus
This is one of my favorites, because it addressed all the symptoms I was having and was fact-acting. However, it wears off fast (less than 4 hours), and you're only supposed to take 2 doses every 24 hours.

Vicks Vapo-rub
Smells nice, and helps a little with the congestion. Emily put it on her feet and then put socks on to stop her coughing (which actually worked, to my surprise), but it hasn't done much for me.

No idea whether or not this stuff is helping. I seem to feel a little better after I take it, but that's probably a placebo effect. It's reasonably well-studied, but I'm pretty sure I have the flu and not a common cold, so I'm not sure I'm the target market right now.

China Gel/Biofreeze
This is the stuff that's been a life-saver for me. It does the same thing as Salonpas, but I can rub it all over my arms, legs, neck, chest, ribs, and back. It's surprisingly long-lasting, too; I put some on about an hour ago, and I'm pretty sure it's the only reason I'm able to sit upright and type right now. The China Gel and Biofreeze have similar mechanisms, but I don't think the Biofreeze works quite as well. I prefer the consistency of the China Gel, anyway. The Biofreeze is cheaper though, by a good amount (China Gel $3.74/ounce, Biofreeze $2.63/ounce).

My plan is to get a flu shot as soon as they start giving them out next year. I've never prioritized flu shots, but holy cow! I never want to feel like this again. From now on, I will always get a flu shot. And if you're unlucky enough to get this particular strain of Canadian influenza (Canadianfluenza, if you will),  Dayquil, ibuprofen, and China Gel is what's helping me survive until the virus runs its course.

No racing for me this weekend. Those of you who are racing, keep the rubber side down!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

PSA: Always Check Before You Ride!

I did an easy-ish ride this morning to take advantage of the beautiful spring weather before the forecast afternoon thunderstorms hit. On the second half of my ride, I started to feel extra tired. I chalked it up to being hungry for lunch, but then I heard a rubbing sound and realized that my front brake had gone off-center. I re-adjusted it and kept riding. It happened again a little bit later, and again a little bit after that. For the last 20-30 minutes of my ride, I was thinking hard about what could cause my brake to keep pulling to the same side, especially since it was pulling clockwise--away from the direction that the cables pull.

When I got home, I dismounted and gave the brake one last wiggle to see if I could feel any play. The brake felt fine, but the wheel moved.

Let me repeat: the wheel moved.

The quick release on my front wheel was loose. I don't know if it came loose at some point during the ride (unlikely), or if it's been like that since I put the front wheel back on after Sunday's ride. But that is a very dangerous problem to have. If my front wheel had come off at high speed, I probably would have been visiting the hospital right now instead of writing this blog post.

Consider this your public service announcement to check your bike before every ride! Here's a list of quick things to check before you head out:

1. Quick release skewers. Be sure they're secure and tight and lined up properly. Check for any side to side play in the front or rear.

2. Wheels and brakes. Give the wheels a quick spin to check for wheel true and brake rubbing. While you do that, eyeball the tires to make sure there's nothing stuck in the rubber. While you're at it, check the tire pressure and inflate your wheels to your preferred pressure.

3. Check the brakes by grabbing the front and rear brake and pushing forward and backward. With the front brake on, the front wheel should stop and the bike frame rotate forward. With the rear brake on, the rear wheel should stop and (if anything) the whole bike should scoot back. Neither wheel should slip against the brake pads, though.

4. Make sure the chain is lubed. Some people lube their chain before a ride, but I usually clean and lube my bike after every ride. Doesn't matter, so long as the chain isn't dry.

You should also wash and check your bike regularly. Ideally, you'd wipe the bike down and de-grease the drivetrain after every ride, but I know sometimes that's not possible. Definitely do it after every wet, rainy ride, though, and try to get it done at least once a week. While you're at it, check the chain for wear (you need a chain wear tester for that job, but they're not expensive). Clean the brake pads and check them for wear. Check your wheels and tires for true and for any little sharp bits that have lodged themselves in your tires. And check the brake track on your wheels for wear.

It doesn't take much time or effort to check your bike, but you do need a little bit of knowledge. I recommend SickBiker and Global Cycling Network, both of which have detailed and informative maintenance guides on their YouTube channels. You shouldn't need to take your bike to the shop for every little thing. And you need to be able to do enough to keep yourself safe on your rides.

Stay safe out there!