Saturday, September 19, 2020

Not Dead. In Grad School.

From the first month of my matriculation

Hello, friends. I've been meaning to drop you a note for, well, about two years now. That's how long it's been since my last post. You know what else happened two years ago? I started a Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

In retrospect, I had enough information that I should have known what to expect. While doing observation hours as a volunteer at the D.C. Veterans' Administration, I had many conversations with the therapists about how difficult their doctorates were, how they ended up forming bonds with their classmates, like soldiers who have been through war. A few of the students who came through on clinical rotations mentioned that multiple relationships in their cohorts had ended during the three-year program. Everyone I knew--not just physical therapists--told me how hard grad school is, how it drains you, how it leaves time for nothing else.

(Except for Emily. She breezed through grad school, somehow.)

But, and I don't know if this has fully come across in all my years of blogging, but I have a pretty high opinion of myself. I paid lip service to how hard a DPT program would be, but internally I thought, "I'm smarter than most people, and better at school. And I'm older than most students when they start grad school. I'll probably be fine."

You may be able to guess, based on the fact that I have dropped off the face of the planet for two years, that I was incorrect. Grad school is hard. Grad school is hard for other people, and it is hard for me. I have gone weeks without riding my bike. I have gained and lost weight. I have broken down crying multiple times. I have experienced mild anxiety and depression (even before COVID-19 turned everything upside down), two things I haven't experienced since puberty. 

I've also learned so, so much, and not just in my chosen field of study. Sure, I know a lot more about anatomy and physiology, movement science, kinesiology, biomechanics, and so on. I've also had the opportunity to reflect deeply on my personal values, and on what drives me to want to help people as a therapist. I've discovered that I value knowledge above everything else, and my ultimate goal as a clinician is to teach people how to be healthier, how to heal themselves. I've also had to confront some of my weaknesses as a communicator, mostly by almost failing (not as bad as it sounds, because anything below a B fails hands-on skills in my program) interview-based finals. In one, I forgot to ask the mock patient what her goals were. I realized that sometimes I think I'm asking a question, but the other person doesn't realize what I'm asking, but as the clinician, the impetus is on me to help the patient give me the information I need.

Most importantly, I've learned that I'm not as smart as I think I am, and I don't know as much as I think I do. I went into the DPT program thinking that I was basically doing the job of a therapist already, just as a fitness trainer. That was based on some unfortunate experiences observing physical therapists in various settings; some of them were practicing at a level not far above what I was doing as a fitness professional. But the first two years of my program have pricked my ego and deflated my big head. Looking back, I feel like I didn't know anything coming into this program.; I've learned at least as much in the past two years as I had in the previous ten, and I still have two more to go. Even once I graduate, I will know just barely enough to start practicing, which will open up a whole new realm of learning potential--as one of my clients put it, "You'll have your license to keep learning." I love learning, so it suits me fine. But I hope I will never again have such an over-inflated view of my own knowledge; I find I enjoy life much more when I'm approaching it with an open mind and an eagerness to see what I can learn, whether that's from a class, a person, or a situation. And I get much more out of life, that way, than approaching with the attitude of, "Oh yeah, I know all that already."

I'm studying. Patty's helping.

Anyway. That's where I've been. Not dead, just busy becoming a physical therapist. Let's talk now of where we are going.

If you are still out there, dear readers, what would you like to know? What can I write that would be worth reading to you? If you are still out there, tell me. I have some ideas, like creating a beginner's guide for road cycling, similar to the series I did years ago on starting out in triathlon. I could answer questions on injuries, or at least try to. I'm planning my own investigation on the intricacies of bike fit, and I could share that. I could share my journey of trying to continue cycling during crazy times--you know, grad school, work, travel, global pandemic, etc. And if no one is still reading, I will still write for myself, and do whichever of these seems most interesting to me. But if anyone is still out there to get some value from my research, let me know what most interests you, what would most help you!

See you out there. In the meantime, don't forget to spin and smile!

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!