Friday, September 14, 2018

Race Report: Giro di San Francisco (Women's 3)

I put this race report off for too long, and in the time since I started a doctoral program. My recollections are a little fuzzy.

The SunPower women had great representation at this race, but JL Velo and SheSpoke brought out even more women. The course is mostly flat, with one very short bump on the backside of the course. It's technical, with some fun, wide-open corners, although one of the corners is very bumpy and consequently kind of scary.

I got clipped in really fast and got off the front without trying at the start. I didn't push the pace, though; just set tempo until the rest of the field caught up with me. That took a lap or two, at which point I saw one of my teammates on the front setting a tough pace on the uphill! I tucked into the pack and tried my best to stay near the front and cover moves. Another teammate was also covering moves at the front, but she was recovering from a cold and not feeling her best. I got gassed from the work, but I didn’t want to leave her alone up front. I asked a third teammate to help her cover the front and I went to the back to sit in for a bit. That’s most of what I remember about the race.

With 3 to go, I found myself off the front with one or two other women, but it was clear they didn’t have the legs to make it last. I was sitting second or third wheel going into 2 laps to go, when everything exploded with moves and counter-moves. I was bleeding positions, but I saw two of my teamies up ahead of me so I didn’t worry too much. They looked pretty tired on the last back-side straight going into the last two corners, though, so I followed the wheels that were moving up around them and tried to make up ground. I left it too late; I wasn’t going from top 15 to top 5 in those two corners, not at that speed! I sprinted for one more position and ended up twelfth.

Main take-away is to be smarter and hold position better in the last few laps. That would be helped by not doing so much earlier in the race.

That's my last road race for this year! Now it's time for #cxishere!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Race Report: San Ardo

In which I get heatstroke.

The forecast for Saturday's San Ardo Road Race called for highs in the low 100s and winds increasing in speed throughout the day. I know from previous races that I don't handle heat well, but I figured I would go down and give it a shot anyway.

About 10 of us cat. 3s rolled out at 8:30 AM for 63 miles through central valley farmland. I had a teammate in the pack who was interested in doing well. My target for the race was to work for her. I helped set pace early in, tried to keep the speed up to discourage attacks, tried a few escapes on downhills to warm everyone's legs up. Everyone must have been feeling good early on, because the response to my pace increases was for the whole group to keep things hot through the first 10 miles.

At about that time, a rider who had come from Florida to collect some upgrade points countered a little attack I'd made and got a gap. At that point we'd already dropped a couple of riders. The lead group was only three strong, but that was enough that every team except ours was represented. I got to work trying either to chase the group back or get it close enough that my teammate could bridge across. Then there was a hill--the last short kicker before a long, straight, flat stretch. I got caught out there and dropped. That was around mile 12, and that was the last I saw of the main group.

I knew at that point it was nothing but a training race for me, and settled in for the long haul. I realized I'd forgotten to start my Garmin so I didn't even have training data for the hardest part of the race. The two groups ahead of me kept getting farther and farther away. The scenery was boring. The pavement was awful, possibly the worst I've ever had in a race. I've ridden gravel roads that are less obnoxiously bumpy. I was pretty salty about the whole thing and planned to throw in the towel after one lap (about 21 miles in, or 9 miles on my Garmin).

Then I had a snack and some water at the end of the first lap and figured I could soldier on at least until I got 30 miles in. That would be a good training ride. I planned to turn around when my Garmin reached 15 miles and head back to the start. I was passing plenty of traffic doing the same thing, mostly coming back after flatting (San Ardo is notorious for goatheads). I passed Tobin Ortenblad going back towards the finish after flatting. I was still feeling good when my Garmin hit 15, and about that time a group of masters came past me. I sped up a little to tag onto the back of their group and figured I'd go until they dropped me, then head back home.

FYI, it's against the rules to hop onto the back of a pack like that and draft. But I figured as long as I stayed out of their way, didn't interfere with their race, and withdrew at the end of the second lap, it wasn't going to do anyone any harm. And I felt much safer in the pack than I'd felt solo; I could follow them through better lines instead of staying on the rough part of the road close to the shoulder. I stayed with them through most of that second lap, but dropped off when they started attacking each other. A chase group from the same race (Masters 4/5, I think) came by me eventually, and I hopped on that train as well. They caught up to the first group I'd been with and I rode them until we passed the 1 km to go sign. I figured they'd sprint it out, and I didn't want to be in the way. I still wasn't feeling too awful, although I was annoyed at the terrible pavement (and glad that I didn't have to jockey for position leading into a sprint on those roads). I felt hot, but not overheated. I was starting to get chills, though, and that's never a good sign.

I rolled over the stop line and told the officials I was withdrawing. They didn't seem too interested. Started heading back to my car and felt worse and worse. By the time I got back to where I'd parked, I was so out of it that I got off my bike and stood there for several minutes, unable to motivated myself to take the next step. I finally managed to prop my bike somewhere and sat down in a camp chair for what felt like 20 minutes, with waves of nausea and dizziness washing over me. It took me that long before I could start getting changed, and even then I had to do it in short bursts--a little bit of activity, then a pause to let the nausea go away, then a little more activity. I changed into fresh clothes and went to a nearby bathroom (good thing it was there) to run cold water from the sink over the back of my neck. That helped, but I had to keep going back over there for more, and it was getting hotter and hotter. I'd ridden with teammates and had to wait for them to finish, but I was in no condition to drive away at that point anyway. Finally, the ambient temperature got so bad that even sitting in the shade with a cool breeze was too much for me. I hopped in my car and ran the AC. Then I remembered riding past a little gas/liquor store in San Ardo (pretty much the only thing there). I went over there and bought a bag of ice, then drove around the block with the ice in my lap and the AC blasting. I finally started to feel back to normal. That ice worked magic.

Lessons learned: don't do races in the central valley in August. Always bring a cooler with ice. Don't attack 10 miles into a 63-mile race, even just to test out the legs. Don't get dropped. But mostly don't do long, hilly road races in the central valley in August. Did I mention that I shouldn't race in the central valley in August?

The rest of the race turned out okay. The two groups came back together, and my teammate was one of only 5 women to finish the race. She got on the podium. And we had really tasty burritos on the way back.

But the consequences of that race have been with me all week. My lymph glands in my neck were swollen on Monday evening, and by Wednesday I felt so run-down that I could barely get out of bed. I think the combination of heatstroke and the gross, smoky air that I've had to breathe for the past several weeks (wildfires on the West Coast) have weakened my immune system to the point of almost but not quite getting sick. I failed a workout on Tuesday, left work early on Wednesday, and have made a point of not exercising at all since Monday. I'm feeling a little better today, so I plan to attend a CX clinic tomorrow and see how it goes.

That was my San Ardo. Reminder to self: don't race in August in the central valley!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

On Bibshorts -or- Equipping Your Undercarriage

I had a conversation with a coworker recently about shorts. Specifically, she never wears bibs and I wear nothing but. She asked me why I prefer bib shorts. And I realized that I have a few reasons, but a major one is that it's what cyclists do. There's a little communal snobbery over bib shorts as opposed to regular shorts; those in the know are aware that bib shorts are better. So it's at least partly a tribal identifier to show that you're an in the know cyclist (similar thing goes for skinsuits in crit/TT/CX racing).

There are some non-snobbery reasons to wear bib shorts, too. The chamois tends to stay put better, especially if you have narrow hips. I don't have narrow hips, but I do have a narrow waist. In my case, wearing bibs instead of shorts removes the elastic waistband that never seems to hit me in the right spot. When I wear normal shorts, I find that my hip flexors start to get sore and my low back gets achy, I think from the pressure of the waistband. And I feel like my breathing is restricted if I try to relax and breathe into my belly. Getting back to the shorts staying in place, a moving chamois is a chafing chamois, so bibs help reduce chafing by reducing movement of the shorts against your tender bits.

Bibs also eliminate the potential for a dumb-ass burn/tan. You know the dumb-ass tan, a.k.a. triathlete tramp stamp; it's the strip of skin between a short jersey and low-cut shorts that gets burned or really darkly tans because who would ever think to apply sunscreen there? Probably less common now that triathletes wear more skinsuit type things, but I remember seeing it on everyone at Wildflower in 2008. Bibs come much higher up the back, high enough that no jersey is going to be fulled up that far, unless you accidentally tucked your jersey into the back of your shorts when using a port-a-john. Also important for modesty--no plumber's crack showing to those behind you!

So that's why you should choose bibs over regular shorts. You'll notice that they're usually more expensive, but now you have some reasons why they're worth it. Next time, I'll talk a little about why you should spend more on shorts in general, and I'll begin a series of kit reviews based on my own experience.

If you have a favorite pair of shorts that you'd like to review, or if you bought a pricey pair and regretted it later, I'd love to feature your experience. Get in touch if you'd like to help me out with my series of kit reviews! I'm particularly interested in hearing from other women on their experiences, since it seems there are always many more resources of that type for male cyclists than us ladies.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Race Report: San Rafael Sunset Criterium (W 3/4/5)

In which I get dropped, lapped, and pull myself.

This was a cool race in which to participate. It's on the USA Crits calendar and draws a lot of big-name talent from around the country. I love to watch the USA Crits streams (An aside: buy a membership if you can! It's $55 for the year, gives you access to a bunch of older streams, allows you to watch all of the races live or on-demand, and part of the proceeds go to supporting the teams! If you like to watch live cycling, this is a project worth supporting!). I was very excited to get to see a major race in person, and to be part of the racing on the day.

However, I was coming off of a six- or seven-week block of training. Why such a long training block? Wouldn't my body disintegrate with such a long block? It was supposed to be a five-week block of sweet spot with a recovery week, buuuuuuut I had two weeks of travel coming up where I knew I wouldn't be able to do much, if any, riding. So I doubled up on a week of TrainerRoad workouts (repeated week 4 of Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume 2, if you're interested) with the intention of taking two weeks pretty much completely off following for recuperation and adaptation.

If you were wondering, planning big races at the end of six hard weeks of training isn't a recipe for success.

The race was hard from the beginning. The field was relatively big for a 3/4/5 race, with riders at all ability levels. My body felt tired and worked, and I was having difficulty railing the corners as much as I needed to. Add in a few sketchy moves by women who didn't know any better, and I decided I'd rather be at the back of the field than on the ground. There was plenty of room to move up--a long straight on the backside of the course that was into a headwind and a long straight coming into the finish line that was slightly uphill. Any time I lost contact, I could lay down some power on the finish straight and re-establish contact, but I was getting gapped in the turns. I actually almost washed on the final turn, which was wide but downhill, on one lap. At one point I looked down at my power meter and realized that pushing 175 watts was destroying me.

I hung in for about 30 minutes, but I'd been gapped and chased back on several times at that point. A selection was made at the front. I was not anywhere near it. I started riding through other dropped riders. When the lead moto came around me, I knew I was close to getting lapped by the front group. After they went by me I took the next opportunity to pull over after the finish line next to the officials. I don't need points to upgrade from cat. 5, and I know from friends who officiate how difficult it is to keep results straight when lapped traffic stays on the course.

The officials wanted to leave everybody out there so that they can get the experience and the potential upgrade points, but I suspect that the results were a bit of a mess afterward. When I got pulled, there was a group of 10-15 riders in the lead group. At the end of the race, there were more like 20 women in that group. I think some of the lapped riders hopped back in with that group when they came around them.

If you're reading this and you ever have the opportunity to do that, resist the temptation. When you get lapped in a road race, just stay to the side until the group goes past and then resume whatever pace you were setting before. It's a little different in CX racing; you don't need to get off your bike and stop, or do anything unsafe to let someone lap you. Sometimes the course will be narrow enough that it's not safe to pass. When you have the opportunity (when it's safe, the course is wide enough, you're not going through tight corners or tricky single-track), you can move to the side so the other person can get around. And keep in mind that person might be trying to win the race and riding so hard at the moment that she's about to throw up, so cut her some slack if she's being rude or impatient. Probably she'll buy you a beer or something after the race.

Anyway, I feel good about the San Rafael Crit. It was still a fun scene in a cool town. And any road racing I do at this point in the season is all about fun and supporting my teammates. My training and performance is all building up to the CX season, which starts in just about a month! It's officially #CXisComing season!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Race Report: Brisbane Criterium (Women's 3/4/5)

In which I find a rhythm with my team

From what I hear, the Brisbane Crit has been on hiatus for seven years and this was its first year back. Cool course! Glad Pen Velo brought it back.

The SunPower women joined the men's team for the summer team camp the day before. We got to pow-wow over lunch and dinner about the Brisbane Crit. We knew that the course would be technical, with a few narrow turns and a full-on hairpin at the far end of the course. We worked on cornering and leadouts at team camp, but we were all a little nervous about taking fast, tight corners with the 3/4/5 field.

I'm not used to the summer here. I didn't expect to need warm-ups and a jacket pre-race, but it was cloudy and chilly out! I would have liked to have had something warm while we scoped out the course before the first race of the day. We took a few turns around the hairpin at the fastest speeds we dared.

We had about 25 women on the line, a little over half of them 3s. The race director and officials both encouraged us to be safe and smart through the corners. I missed my pedal on the start (I can get it 9 times on a commute, but not the start line here!) and ended up at the back of the group. I was the designated sprinter in this race, and I don't mind starting in the back and moving forward during the race. But I wasn't eager to be at the back of the pack through the tight corners. It was surge-y during the first few laps, but it was also hard to find space to move up. The course was so short, and there were so many corners, and the finish straight-away had a cross-headwind.

There was a crash on lap 3, the field split, and I had to put in a solid effort to get back to the lead group. That's when I finally got into the front half of the field. On that next lap, a Mike's Bikes rider attacked into the hairpin and came out hot. It was a great spot for an attack! She took three other riders with her--two SheSpoke women and one of my teammates! I was officially off the hook for any kind of chase, and I had a teammate in the chase group!

Chase proceeded from a group of 8 (I think), only 3 of whom were doing work; the rest of us had teammates up the road. We had to cover one bridge attempt, but other than that the pace was tolerable. Coming into the last lap, my teammate in the chase told me to get on her wheel and led me out for a whole lap! I came around her just before the last corner and took the field sprint. She finished just behind me, and our teammate in the break came in for fourth place in the 3s, so we went 3-4-5 in the race!

It was an extra fun race, and not just because of the course. Almost everyone on the team was at this race. We were able to start together and race together. We positioned well and raced smart tactically. And we got a good result out of it! Racing like that reminds me of why it's so much fun. I enjoy competing, but it's even more fun to be a part of collective working in sync. It adds an extra layer to the competition that makes it feel more meaningful.

Warm fuzzies concluded. Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 13, 2018

On Experience

Let me tell you about some of the mistakes I have made.

I was working with one of my very first clients when I was a new trainer. It was 2007. I was straight out of school, had just gotten my personal trainer certification. My supervisor handed me a client (because lord knows I couldn't have sold my own services in those days). It was our first workout. I wanted to do some exercise seated on a stability ball. The client told me she wasn't sure if she could sit on a stability ball. I, 22 year old that I was, thought hey! everyone can sit on a stability ball! So I had her sit on a stability ball. She fell off. She was fine. We had a good laugh about it. She worked with me on and off for the next five years.

There was another client, much older. She had some knee pain. She'd never done much exercise before. I was trying to help her strengthen the muscles around the knee to increase the stability of the joint, and I was still young, so I was doing it the only way I knew how. She sort of faded off my schedule gradually, which people sometimes do. It wasn't until months later when I called her to check in and learned that, actually, the exercises we'd done had made her knee pain much worse.

I've been a personal trainer for 11 years now. I've worked with many clients of all ages, sizes, ability levels. I'm also older and understand that just because something seems easy and natural when you're 22 it doesn't mean it's easy and natural for everyone. I recognize much more how little I know. I recognize that I need to respect and trust my client's experiences and perceptions. If someone tells me, "I don't think I can do that," I listen. I may still make them do it, but it will be after careful consideration and preparation.

Some things you only learn with experience.

I hate learning by experience, and here's why:

I grew up bookish and smart. My whole life, I've been able to read and retain and replicate. I learned about camping and boating and swimming and knot-tying and all kinds of interesting things from books. When I started a career in fitness, I cannot describe to you how frustrated I was to realize that there were many things I wanted to know and understand that I couldn't find in books. That's one of the things I originally tried to address on this blog; I wanted to provide information that I wasn't finding elsewhere. But in those cases, the information was out there and just needed to be assembled and organized and synthesized.

Other situations weren't so simple. How do you deal with a client who is going through symptoms of depression and starts crying during a session? More importantly, how do you deal with this client--Margo or Neil or whomever--who is crying right now, right here, in this session? Because you may need to deal differently with Margo than with Neil, and the things that work for Margo in that situation will send Neil right over the edge.

You don't learn how to deal with certain situations in books; you learn by living through those situations (and hopefully not screwing up too badly in the process).

Which brings me to today's topic. Race experience.

There are books about racing tactics, about which lines to take, about how to corner, about how to ride safely in a pack. But do you know how you learn those things? You learn them by doing them. And probably making mistakes along the way.

I haaaaaaaate making mistakes.

But I do it, like, all the time. Here's one that was recently brought to my attention:

I'm the one in the blue jersey at the front doing a leadout and then pulling off to the left, causing the rider with the camera and the woman in front of her (neon yellow JL Velo racer) to slow down. Now, in my head, I thought I was pulling wide after the corner and getting out of everyone's way. Note in the video that is not what happens. And I would never have known about this if a fellow racer hadn't shown this video to me and given me some tips on what I can do next time. Which was not comfortable. Something about having my mistakes called out by someone else gives me a deep sense of . . . I don't know, shame? Something really unpleasant; it's the emotional equivalent of hives, in that it feels emotionally itchy. Even so, I was glad to get this feedback. If this other racer hadn't spoken up, I would never have known that I did this, and I wouldn't be able to do better next time.

Racing is hard. It's physically hard, sure. It feels like your muscles are being sucked out of your eyeballs with needles. It's mentally hard, too, to keep track of 40 to 70 other people, make sure you're not running into them and they're not going to run into you. The stakes are high, as anyone who's crashed a bike at 30 MPH can tell you. Oh, and you're trying to beat everyone else to the finish line, too. And if you've raced, you've probably been around at least one rider who makes you think, "Better watch out for that one!" If not, you were that rider.

Even if you have commented on other racers' squirreliness, you may have been that rider. That's where I'm at. I have enough experience to know what I shouldn't do, but not enough that I can put it into practice (not all the time, anyway). More significantly, it's hard to know when I get it wrong. In the race footage above, I didn't realize what I'd done. I needed someone behind me who had seen my sudden lateral movement to tell me about it. If she hadn't done so, I wouldn't know enough to work on and improve that specific part of my racing.

It's also hard to stay teachable and humble, to be open to feedback, to accept advice, criticism, even rebuke. But that's the only way you can learn from your experiences. And that's the only way you get better at this crazy sport.

Personal goal for the rest of the season: ride smooth. Ride predictable. Ride safe. Fellow NCNCA women, you can hold me to that!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Stop Slouching: My stupid shoulder

Do you know that my most popular post on this whole blog is this post about winging scapulae? My mindset around rehab or "corrective exercise" has changed since I wrote that. I no longer think I can fix people or make their movement perfect. Better, maybe. But not perfect. And I can't fix long-term injuries, usually. Again, I might be able to make things better. At a certain point, though, we all have physiological issues that we're going to have to live with. We build them up throughout life. That's part of the deal as humans.

I no longer nitpick so much about "proper" biomechanics of exercise (although still don't do this). Maybe it's because I work primarily with older adults (oldest client is 94, currently!) and I'd have a different mindset if I were working with high-level athletes or something. Mostly, I focus on trying to make clients' movements better rather than perfect. They can only focus on one or two things at a time, anyway.

All of which is a long way to say that my right shoulder is still messed up. In spite of any articles that I've written about corrections for the "problem," my right scapula still wings. And everything around it is kind of FUBAR, too. I'm past trying to fix it. I don't need it to work perfectly; I need it to work well enough. For one thing, I need to be able to pick my bike up by the top tube by the time CX season starts. Right now, that really, really hurts.
Definitely can't do this right now. Photo courtesy of Blooming Cyclist, (c) 2017.
So I've put in a request to see a physical therapist, and I'm going to get some professional help to work this out. I could probably figure out what's wrong and how to fix it with enough research and reading on my own. But I'll soon have enough of that research and reading for my DPT program. I want to spend this summer enjoying my free time while I have it.

Yes, I'm outsourcing my care to another professional. But the alternative is learning to bunny hop the barriers this fall, probably ending up on a video like this. And no one wants to see that.

Healer, heal yourself much?

p.s. That shoulder biomechanics article? 10 years old. Holy crap. I've been doing this for 10 years.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Recovering from Dirty Kanza

In which I rediscover why it's a good idea to train for big events.

Did I mention that my knee started hurting about 30 miles into my Dirty Kanza attempt? The pain started as tightness behind my left knee. It eventually wrapped around to the front of my knee and gave me a little stab with every pedal stroke. I don't remember any pain there during the next few days with normal walking and activity. But now the pain reoccurs on every single bike ride, including short and easy commutes, and sticks around for a bit after the ride.

This seems obvious and stupid to say, but this is why you need to train for huge events. Your fitness may be able to carry you through stupid-hard events (like the Dirty Kanza, or remember that Cedar Point half ironman that I did on basically no training?), but your muscles and tendons and mind need the practice, too. So yeah. Next time I'll actually train for the event.
Something in here is going wrong. By the way, this isn't my actual knee.
In the meantime, I need to make my knee better! And I'm finding that I'm strangely lazy about resolving my own biomechanical issues. I'm a personal trainer and a physical therapy student, right? So I should be able to put together a basic knee rehab routine for my own benefit. If a client came in with this problem, I'd have half a dozen exercises in mind to help make it better. For some reason, when it's my own knee, I can't muster the focus necessary to come up with a plan.

That said, my bum shoulder has also been bothering me for weeks. I think it's down to a less-than-ergonomic set-up at my home desktop computer. Anyway, it's painful, it hurts when I move it, and it hasn't been getting better (even with consistent exercise). So I've set up an appointment with a physical therapist.

Healer, heal yourself much?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Dirty Kanza 2018: My First Attempt

This is the woman who convinced me to register!
Let me begin by saying that I seriously considered transferring my entry for Dirty Kanza. About a month out, I realized that I hadn't trained nearly enough and was rapidly running out of time to correct that mistake. I talked with Emily and my parents about not doing the race, but in the process of that discussion I realized that, as much as I might regret doing the event while I was doing it, I would regret missing the opportunity much more. With that in mind, I committed to going out there and doing my best, whether that meant 50 miles or 206.

My Dirty Kanza prep was impacted by the preceding week--specifically, the fact that we flew to Ottawa to visit Emily's family for Memorial Day. I was in charge of booking flights, and I accidentally booked the return trip a day later than I'd intended (not the first time I've screwed up travel dates)! So we flew in from Ottawa to SFO on Wednesday at 1:00 AM. At 9:45 AM on Wednesday, I flew out of SJC for Kansas. That meant I had to have everything--bike bag, clothes, any equipment--packed for the Kanza trip an extra week in advance. That didn't cause any specific problems, but it introduced an extra layer of stress to my preparations.

I reassembled my bike in Wichita and had no brakes, which I'd sort of expected; I'd heard that flying with a bike is likely to introduce air into hydraulic brake lines. In anticipation, I had pre-scheduled an appointment at my former local bike shop (Bicycle X-Change in Wichita, Kansas) with my favorite ever mechanic (and adopted big brother, Jack) to have my bike pre-Kanza tuned. They were able to get the brakes bled and had everything tuned in time for me to pick it up on Friday afternoon, and the whole bike braked and shifted better than it has since I bought it! I love that I have mechanics I can trust all over the country!

I wasn't together enough to get any kind of housing in Emporia, so my parents and I drove to Emporia on Friday morning for check in and back again Friday afternoon. It was blazing hot on Friday--heat index well above 100*F! The warmest temperatures I'd experienced so far this year had come in Ontario, where the temperatures were in the mid-80s. It's still cool enough in Northern California that I have to wear knee warmers in the mornings. I knew I was unprepared for the heat. Friday's weather did not give me positive feelings. Fortunately, a thunderstorm blasted through Emporia in the wee hours of Saturday morning, cooling everything off for the day-of.

Speaking of that thunderstorm, since we didn't have a place to stay in Emporia, we had to drive up on Saturday morning. We left at 4:15 AM. We woke up at 3:30 AM. I have a rule about this, honed over years of early mornings at various gyms: if it's before 4:30 AM, it's not the morning; it's the night before. Which is to say, no one should be waking up at 3:30 AM. Ever.

Anyway. The thunderstorm. It blew through Wichita a few hours before we left, and we caught it on the interstate. My dad was driving, but I could feel how strong the wind was blowing from the backseat. There were areas where he slowed down from the speed limit of 75 MPH to 55 MPH, because any higher speed would have been dangerous. We arrived safely in Emporia, but late. By that time, the thunderstorm had moved into Emporia, and the start time was delayed by 30 minutes. That gave me time to visit the bathroom and make sure my bike was ready to go.

By the time we rolled out of Emporia, the skies were clearing and the air temperature was perfect. Standing on the line with my friend (the one who convinced me to sign up for the lottery when I was a few beers in), I felt mostly confident, ready for what the day would bring.

I went too hard in the first hour. There were so many people, and we were on wide roads, and my roadie-ness took over. I told myself it would be worth it to push a little harder initially to stay with a strong group. One of the disadvantages of drafting in a pack was that I got covered in mud. It wasn't really worth drafting, considering that I couldn't see where I was going through the mud on my sunglasses. After about 90 minutes, I was able to let the group mentality go and tried to go my own pace. The rest of the first segment went pretty well, although my undercarriage wasseriously chafing, and my back was starting to ache. By the time I got to the first aid station, I was extremely ready to be off of my bike.
Rear wheel post-flat
I didn't spend a ton of time at the first rest stop. Did I mention I'd started my period on Friday? That was an extra element of fun to deal with throughout the day. I took care of that, went to the bathroom, re-stocked on food and drink. My bike needed some work. It had accumulated mud that had turned to cement on my drivetrain. My parents helped by cleaning and lubing the chain while I ate. Once the bike was back in working order, I climbed back on and rolled off reluctantly.
From the top of the hill!
The second segment was tougher. We climbed more, including a big climb culminating in a beautiful view at mile 65. I stopped at the top to pee, take some pictures, have a snack. My back was seizing up, but I noticed that I felt much better after even a short break off the bike. I decided I would start taking breaks every 10 miles or so to let my back rest. The next several miles felt great. I've never--even in my Ironman--experienced such drastic swings between feeling miserable and feeling great. Miles 65-80 felt terrific. It was mostly downhill, mostly tailwind, my whole body and mind felt better than they had just half an hour before. I started to think I would at least be able to make it halfway, although I also had moments of telling myself I should quit while I was ahead. I ran out of water at mile 80, and tried to nurse half a bottle of drink mix through the next 20 miles. Shout out to rider #241, who gave me all the water out of one of his bottles, and to the family near Eureka who gave out water! They saved me from getting behind on my hydration through that stretch. Without them, I would have been in a bad way by the time I got to the Eureka stop.
All alone out here. Just me and the cows.
When I arrived at the second aid station (mile 103), I got a cool surprise: my dad's friend and fellow C.O.G.S. (Crazy Old Guys in Spandex, which is what you become after a M.A.M.I.L.) drove all the way from Wichita to Eureka to see me come through the aid station! Seeing him and his wife gave me inspiration to keep going. I took a loooong break in Eureka, though. I was 2 hours ahead of the time cut-off, and I took full advantage. I did a total kit change, went to the (flushing!) toilets in the high school twice, ate as much watermelon as I could, and sat in the shade in a camp chair for probably 20 minutes. I rolled out fully expecting to need to call my parents to pick me up within the next 10 miles.
Ethel's still looking good at this point.
But I didn't. I got to mile 115, took my promised break to unkink my back, then actually got back on and kept pedaling. By mile 120, I needed another back break. All day, I'd been asking myself in my head how I would know when it was time to quit and pack it in. Emily made me promise not to overdo (although can you do an event like DK200 without overdoing?). My mom reminded me in Eureka that I had nothing to prove to anyone. Around mile 120, I decided that if I got to where I needed to stop and stretch my back every minute, it would be time to pack it in. And really, I wasn't going much more than a minute at a time. I would get off the bike, stand up, stretch, get back on, and immediately need to do it again. During one of those breaks, I dropped my bike saddle by a few millimeters, hoping that would help. It did help the chafing, but not the back pain. The darkest moments of the day were miles 125-140, where it was mostly uphill, blistering hot, in the glaring sun, into a stiff headwind, with no relief in sight. Still, I passed a few who were worse off, including one guy who was pulled over to the side of the road throwing up. I gave him some of my Pepto Bismal tablets.

Then, around mile 140, it suddenly got easier again. A lot of the steep climbing was behind us, the sun was setting, the wind was calming down, the air was getting cooler. I turned on my lights. My body felt miraculously good! Even my back calmed down. I knew then that I was going to make it to the third aid station at mile 160, with plenty of time to make the cut-off. And, as much as I tried to tell myself I would quit there in Madison, I knew that I would probably get back on my bike, planning to call my parents soon thereafter to come get me. But I'd told myself the same thing after the first and second aid station, and had made it that far. So I figured if I set off from Madison, with only 46 miles to go, I would finish. Unthinkably, with the amount of training I'd done going into the Dirty Kanza, I might actually finish it. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But. But but but. My right shifter had been acting wonky going into Eureka. It was getting stiffer and stiffer, harder to shift. That continued after the aid station, but I could still get it to shift. Shortly before mile 151, it finally got stuck and I couldn't get it to shift anymore. I was stuck in my easiest gear, spinning my legs at 6-7 MPH. And while I knew I could still get to Madison before the cut-off, I knew I wouldn't make it to the finish by the 3:00 AM deadline going 6 MPH the whole way. I thought about continuing on to Madison, but it was annoying spinning and going nowhere. I called my mom and told her the bike broke and I was done. They got ready to pack up and come get me, and I kept spinning along, thinking I would meet them somewhere along the way. She called back and said they weren't allowed to drive backwards on the course, so we tried to figure out where to meet along the way. While I was on the phone, some volunteers pulled up (they were coming back from their post at one of the creek crossings) and offered me a ride! So I rode in with them in their Jeep. Got back to my parents' car around 10:30, and we packed up and cleared out.

I feel good about the event. My bike broke before my body did, but my body was very grateful to have the excuse to stop. I got to stop during one of my high points. Re-reading this report, I don't think I can fully communicate how hard it was and how little I believed I could do the whole thing. Really, until mile 140, I was asking myself continually if I should quit and give up, how far I needed to go before I could let myself give up. My back was so stiff at points that I couldn't pedal anymore. I didn't think I could physically make it through the full 206 miles. But I think (and my parents agree, for what that's worth) that I would have finished if my bike hadn't stopped working. And I could have gotten my bike to work again probably if I had made it to Madison. The shifter breaking was the final push I needed, though, to throw in the towel.

There were highlights, though, and a few things I got really right in this attempt! In no particular order:

  • I did a really good job of hydrating and eating. At no point did I feel dehydrated or depleted.
  • I applied and reapplied sunscreen consistently enough that I didn't get burned, or even that much more tan than I already was. In fact, my mom got a sunburn and I didn't!
  • I ran tubes in my tires, which I thought was going to be a disaster. Long story, and it involves a pair of rims that I'd never run tubeless before . . . they're tubeless ready, but I think they need to be re-taped (I got them used). Anyway, I only had one flat, and it's because I mistimed a bunny hop over a lip of concrete on a cattle grate. If I'd just slowed down and rolled over it, I wouldn't have had a single flat. And I changed that sucker in no time. Tubes weren't a liability for me at all, at least not on this attempt.
  • I did way more than I thought I could. I was skeptical going into it that I would even be able to make it halfway.
  • Slowing down for steep, rough descents and taking good lines.
  • Being alone. I discovered on this ride that I prefer riding alone. I didn't want to find a buddy or a group; I didn't want to chat to pass the time. Some of my favorite moments were when things were so spread out that I couldn't see anyone in front of me or behind me, and could enjoy the feeling of total solitude. That was especially moving after the sun set. Really, when else will I got to be so isolated, away from all people, houses, settlements, in the dark alone with my thoughts and the stars? It was a breathtaking experience. That in itself was worth the price of admission (and all the pain that went along with it).
There were many things that I did wrong, too. Obviously. Again, in no particular order, a few lessons learned:
  • More training and more specific training. I had a lot going on while training for Dirty Kanza. Moving across the country, finding a new team, racing with the new team, finishing pre-reqs, applying for and getting into grad school . . . but it's not like I wasn't riding my bike. I wasn't doing the training I needed, and I wasn't using my Crux. So in addition to having done no rides over 88 miles, I hadn't done those long rides on the bike I used for Dirty Kanza. If I'd had more time on my Crux, maybe my back wouldn't have locked up so much. Or I would have known that it would lock up, and changed my fit to fix it.
  • Book a place in Emporia very early. There's no reason to get up at 3:30 AM on the day of a huge event.
  • Bring at least 3 bottles, in addition to a hydration pack. Whatever happens, do not run out of water.
  • Practice nutrition ahead of time--don't rely on past experience! I used S'mores Pop-Tarts in my Ironman with great success, but they were much harder to stomach with temperatures in excess of 90*.
  • Use a bike with less aggressive, race-oriented geometry and have it fit specifically for DK (and DK training).
  • Spare shorts were a great idea. Spare socks for each aid station would be even better. And it wouldn't hurt to have a pair of spare shoes, either.
  • Don't wear white jerseys unless you're okay with them never being white again. Ever.
  • Bring camp chairs for the aid stations.
  • Some kind of liquid painkiller that got into my system quickly would have been great. I think part of the reason I felt so good at mile 140 is that the ibuprofen I'd taken earlier finally kicked in.
  • Bring a brighter headlight. It needs to be a "see" headlight, not just a "be seen" headlight.
  • Practice mental strategy and better self-talk. I used too much energy talking myself into continuing.
  • Use a power meter for pacing. I have a PowerTap wheel on my road bike, but no power meter on my CX bikes. I'm thinking I'll get a PowerTap wheel for my CX bike, too, and use it to train for DK next year and to pace my effort, especially early on when my body feels good and I want to ride fast.
  • Core strength, back flexibility, hamstring flexibility, and upper body strength. I knew months ago that my upper body was likely to give out before my endurance ran out, but I still didn't put in the work to make sure that wouldn't limit me. If I had put in the necessary time and work (as I knew I should) with weight training, core training, and yoga, I would have had an easier time of the whole thing. Then again, maybe that back ache was what I got instead of menstrual cramps with my period.
I will make another attempt at Dirty Kanza, I hope in 2019. That will depend to a great extent on my school schedule, since I'll be spending 7 weekends per term in San Diego for labs and exams. But perhaps those weekends will fall in a way that I will still be able to travel to Kansas for DK 2019. And this time, my body and bike will be prepared!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Red Kite #7 Women's 3/4/5 (April 22, 2018)

It's weird. Re-watching the last lap, it doesn't so much look like my wheel got chopped in the second-to-last corner; it looks like I started my lead-out too early and lost steam in the final straight. Good to see the video, and re-think what I can do better next time. Share and enjoy!

Friday, May 4, 2018

In other news . . .

Quick break from cycling to tell you what's up in the rest of my life:

After working on health-related pre-requisites since 2009, I have been accepted to a doctoral physical therapy program for fall of 2018. I'm going to be a doctor!

If I can get through the next 4 years, that is . . .

Monday, April 30, 2018

Race Report: Red Kite #7

In which I race with my new team for the first time!

I signed up for this race on a whim, since one of my new teammates (Teammate L) decided to make her return to racing (after giving birth to her first son earlier this year). It's a flat, fast, four-corner (-ish--it's really three corners and a curve) crit, probably perfect to get me back into road racing after more-or-less 8 months away!

We had three racers in a field of probably 40 3/4/5s. Plan was to hang in, see what happened, and wait for it to come to a sprint, at which point I would lead out another teammate (Teammate D) for a glorious win. The finish line for the race was a short distance from the final corner, so positioning into the last corner was key.

Race went off as expected. In general, I've experienced safe, courteous racing out here on the West Coast, and this was no exception! Teammate L led me out for a prime mid-race. No one else really contested it, and I had about a 50 meter gap by the time I crossed the line. So I kept going! A rider from SJBC (San Jose Bicycle Club) bridged up to me, and we traded turns at eye-searing pace. I have never had such an encouraging breakaway companion! She cheered me on, and kept saying, "We just have to get out of sight! Come on! We can do it!" But big team Breakaway shut us down. Honestly, I was grateful when they caught us. My power profile is better for getting away than staying away, and I am certainly not in race shape currently (still training for Dirty Kanza distance).
I think the blue arrow is my prime sprint, and the red arrow is where we got caught.
Teammate D pulled the same trick, taking a prime and staying away for a few laps. But team Breakaway brought her back, too.

With about three laps to go, I maneuvered to the front. I didn't like the moderation of the pace--a slow lead-up to a sprint spells danger to me. So I started ramping up the pace. Teammate D was on my wheel, letting me know where she was and where to move to keep her in my draft. I went as hard as I could on the last lap, but team Breakaway's train was right beside us. I had the wide line going into the final corner, and two Breakaway riders overshot that turn, pulling directly into my line and cutting me off. Teammate D was still able to get around me and them to sprint for the win in the cat. 3. But I was freaked out, and had done my job, so I sat up and pedaled in for 7th place out of 8.

At first I was annoyed about having my wheel chopped coming out of the last corner. But that's racing. And they were 4/5s, still new to criteriums and learning how to corner. Next time I'll try to position on the inside corner. C'est la vie.

I'll have video from this race at some point, but my little action cam has been giving me fits. The video is on there; I'm just having trouble getting it off. Once I do, I'll throw a video together and post it.

Monday, April 9, 2018


I've been nursing along some sub-optimal equipment for several months--gear cables and housing that could really use replacement, but were still functioning well (enough) as long as I tinkered with them constantly. No more! I did a total bike overhaul this weekend; to be honest, it's bleeding over into this week. Here's how the trusty steed looked on the operating table:
Stripped down to his skivvies!
In addition to replacing shift cables and housings, I pulled off the shifters, lubed everything inside, and replaced the brake hoods. I stripped off both derailleurs, examined all the parts for function, cleaned everything really well, and replaced the jockey wheels. I pulled the crankset for a thorough cleaning and replaced my 36-tooth inner chainring with a 34 (I need that compact gearing for the hills/mountains around here). And I figured as long as I had the bar tape stripped, I might as well replace the brake cables and housings, too. I have some fresh Lizard Skins bar tapes on order at my (new!) local shop, Goride Bicycles in Redwood City. The guys there have been very helpful as I've prepared for this process.
Somebody get him some clothes!
Although it hasn't seemed like much of a process--not nearly as bad as I thought it would be! Previous experiences with internal cable routing have led to much sweating, cursing, and banging around with magnets. I guess I've done it enough times to have the hang of it, and all the internal cable routing has gone very smoothly. I treated myself to Park Tool's internal cable routing doohickey, the IR.2, but I haven't really needed it so far. The strong magnet has come in handy, but I have some old magnets from a name badge that would work just as well. I'm not going to say it was a waste of $50, though, because it's never a waste of money to have good tools!

I have a little more deep cleaning I want to do while I have the crankset off. Then I'm going to reinstall everything, adjust the brake hoods and levers to where I want them, and torque everything to spec. Last thing--and best thing--will be wrapping the new bar tape. That's always my favorite part; it feels like a reward for all the dirty work!

Next big project will be bleeding the brake lines on my Crux before CX season!

Friday, March 30, 2018

New Team, New Kit!

Last weekend, I got in some miles and mountains with my new team: the ladies of SunPower Racing/Alto Velo Racing Team!

I'm the only one facing the wrong way. Well at least they know what to expect from me now.
The team met up in Sonoma, which is beautiful but also mountainous. We rode hard together on Saturday and had the chance to practice some group riding skills, then practiced individual skills and drills on Sunday. Staying in the same house with the group gave me a chance to get to know everyone. I really like them! I'm excited to start racing with them at the Turlock Lake Road Race next weekend.

But you'll notice that the kits are white and blue. I've spent the past three years with team kit that matched my bike! Does that mean it's time to buy a new bike? I think it might. One really shouldn't be riding around all mismatched like that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Finding my way

I think, relatively, that I haven't moved around all that much. But I have had four significant moves in the last 10 years, so I've had a little practice with the process. Mostly, I don't like it. Packing everything up, sorting through the stuff you naturally accumulate from living in a place for a few years, getting frustrated with packing and giving a bunch away or throwing it out or just leaving it behind, then regretting it a few months later when you inevitably need that exact thing . . . finding a new place to live, and setting it up so it feels like home and not some stranger's house . . . making new friends and connections, finding a doctor, a dentist, a piano tuner . . . figuring out which grocery store is going to be your grocery store . . . in general, I do not like moving and would be quite happy never to do it again.

Still, something about moving that I enjoy, something that I've just picked up on this time: finding my way around on a bike. At first, I went on a few group rides and had no clue where I was; I couldn't get dropped because I wouldn't know where I was (there's still plenty of that, actually)! And I've already written about getting turned around on a bike ride. But on a ride last week, I suddenly realized that I knew exactly where I was, and knew what was coming up next. It's strange how quickly, and without really noticing it, these landmarks and . . . how should I say, the feel of a place sticks in your brain. Without trying, I've acquired a certain sense of where I am, and how to get around.

I'm sure there will still be plenty getting lost--after all, the Bay Area is huge, and there are major parts of it I haven't even considered exploring yet! But it's starting to feel like my area, like I belong here and know a little bit about how to get around.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Getting Lost

When I was a little girl, my dad told me a story about how he got to know Wichita when he first moved there. He had grown up near Ohio, but moved to Wichita when he entered the Air Force. During his first week or two there, he drove around in his Le Mans and got himself really lost. Then he found his way home again. And that's how he got to know his way around Wichita.

On Tuesday, I got lost.

I planned a long ride using a combination of Strava heatmaps, local knowledge, and the few rides I've done with Alto Velo Racing Club. I loaded it to my phone, and hoped that would be enough.

First off, I don't know enough about the area to know high-traffic roads. Sometimes Strava heatmaps show a road that's popular for riding, but all of the rides are recorded on Saturdays and Sundays when the traffic's light, or it's all from weekday commuters who ride on the sidewalks. So I ended up on a long, steady uphill that was pretty high-traffic, and included lots of semi-trucks. That was mistake number one.

Mistake number two was missing my turn and going about 5 miles beyond it, mostly uphill. I figured it out and turned around straight into a headwind. Ergh. I checked my phone at the turn to make sure I knew the next few turns, then did a loooooong descent down a narrow road. I made my next turn, but had to stop and check my phone there.

Which brings me to mistake number three: not bringing a phone charger. My phone got too cold and froze. Have you ever had your iPhone literally freeze? The battery drains to nothing in a second and you can't turn it back on until you plug it in. So now I was about 15 miles from home with no idea where I was or how to get back.

So I tried to use the bread crumbs feature of my Garmin to guide me back. It didn't work. And the satellite dropped out. I was completely without technology, and had to use my wits to get me back home!

I'd just come down from the mountains, and I know those are west of where I live. And I'd seen the south bay from the top of the mountain, so I started heading north and east. I saw a sign for a familiar road, but couldn't remember if I should turn left or right. I guessed left, and followed the road hoping that I wasn't going to end up in San Jose.

After a few miles, I saw a familiar jersey up ahead--a Sunpower racer was within view! I went a little harder to catch up to him, and asked if he could point me in the right direction. He showed me where to turn, and I was back in a familiar area! I was able to get myself home from there.

Tl;dr: I got lost, and now I know my way around my new home a little bit better! But getting lost is worth it when it comes with these views:

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!