Monday, April 24, 2017

General update (because no races this weekend)

In MABRA land, this weekend is normally reserved for the Tour of Page County. It was one of my favorite races last season! Unfortunately, the race organizer had some personal issues arise earlier this year and wasn't able to put on the race the way he would want it. It will be back next year, but in the meantime there was no road racing for Veloworks-Spokes, Etc. this weekend (although a contingent did the Leesburg Baker's Dozen mountain bike race).

Since I have no race report for you, here's a few notables from this week:

The Whole 30 thing is going well, or at least pretty well. My cravings have come and gone in waves: day 3 I madly wanted bread; day 5 I longed for cheese; over the weekend I wanted a cold beer. I've probably been eating much more fruit than the program intends, but I'm also doing more and more intense exercise than the program prescribes. January would have been a better time to do this. I didn't feel I needed it back in January, though; I was moderate in my consumption over the winter holidays.

Anyway, I eat lots of fruit and lots of dried fruit and lots of bananas and lots of potatoes. I also found that some of the Clif energy food packets are okay for me to eat (no added sugar, no grains). They're effective and tasty, but have the consistency of baby food--it's a little weird. And they don't pack very many calories for the amount of space they take up in my jersey pockets. They provided a nice break from dried fruit, though.

Since I was traveling last weekend and I didn't feel like doing an 8-minute FTP test early in the week, I took an extra recovery week last week (the week before Easter, that is). I picked up where I left off this week, starting with the FTP test on Tuesday. I thought my FTP wouldn't increase by very much, since I'd had two weeks off, and the structure of my training had been spotty for a week or so before that. I surprised myself with an increase of 23 watts, though, which is a little over 10% of my previous FTP!

I could feel my new strength on this weekend's team rides, too. There were hills that we've climbed many times together as a team where I was able to hang and couldn't have before. I'm holding wheels that I couldn't have held this time last year, or even two months ago. My training is working, it seems! On Saturday's ride, I felt particularly strong. During Sunday's ride, my legs were a little overcooked, and I faded towards the end of the ride. The first half of the ride was ideal tempo training, though. I have one teammate who rides so steady, it's almost like motorpacing!

I also broke down and bought a Gatorade on Sunday. My legs were starting to cramp. It seems like the dried fruit wasn't quite enough for both hard rides on back-to-back days. And I'm not sure I'm going to make a whole 30 days (heh, whole 30 days) of this. I'm getting really tired of potatoes and bananas! But don't worry, Mom, I'm eating a lot (really, a lot); just not eating certain things, or drinking any alcohol.

From Carl Dolan (April 9) to Bunny Hop (May 6), there's no racing for me. There is a road race next weekend (American Velo Club's Road Race), but I have to go to a chemistry lab instead. That's a whole month with no racing! I'm getting antsy!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Jamie's Diet

You guys. I'm trying Whole 30.

You guys.

Why am I trying Whole 30? Is it because it's a trendy thing that's popular on Pinterest right now? Because I'm a very trendy person. I'm hip to all the latest things.
I'm doing Whole 30 because I haven't felt entirely well for the past few months. I haven't felt bad, or sick. But I haven't felt my best, either. I've had too many moments where I finish eating (or drinking) something and I feel . . . icky. I was much more in tune with how I felt and my body's response to food, exercise, and my environment a few years ago. Partly it's because I don't do as much (or any) yoga and meditation, so I'm less in tune with my body in general. But I've also gotten to a point where I pay less attention to what I eat (and probably too much attention to how much of it I eat). And I drink too much. Whole 30 is my attempt to redirect some of those patterns.

What is Whole 30? If you haven't read or heard about it already, it's a pretty strict clean-eating regimen that lasts for only 30 days. It's also a registered trademark (except they spell it Whole30), so hopefully I don't get in trouble for this post. Like most trendy diets, it was "founded" by an attractive health/fitness professional (Certified Sports Nutritionist, probably also a registered trademark) who's good at self-promotion but whose qualifications seem to consist primarily of being certified, having written a book, and being a keynote speaker about some things.*

In general I'm skeptical about such eating plans (diets, that's what they are; let's call them diets). They are featured in the New York Times or whatever and everyone and their cousin does them for a few years, then they fade into obscurity. Remember South Beach Diet? Or Beach Body? Or Weight Watchers? Testimonials aside, there's little evidence that these diets do anything long-term, and they tend to rely heavily on pseudo-scientific concepts like "detoxification." In short, I think things like Whole 30‒ways of eating that have their own websites, apparel, and affiliate programs‒are silly.

So it's hilarious to me that I am trying it.

Silliness aside (or rather, my perception aside), it's not like these diets have nothing of value to contribute. They work for people, although maybe not the majority. Whole 30 focuses on eating moderate portions of real foods: meat, seafood, eggs, lots of veggies, some fruits, and lots of natural fats. During the 30 days, you eschew grains, legumes, dairy, all added sweeteners (no artificial sweeteners, no honey, no maple syrup), food additives and preservatives, junk foods, and (most importantly for me) alcohol. No cheat days allowed.

Except that I'm going to give myself the option to cheat on race days. In fact, I'm making a few modifications. I imagine (some people will say) this makes it not Whole 30 and I'm not truly committing to the plan and that makes me a weak-willed person. Whatever. This is my body and my lifestyle and I need to modify the plan so that it fits for me.

In addition to eating what I want on race days (only if I have the chance to go hang out with teammates and friends after the race), I will also continue to use Skratch hydration mix, which has added sugar, during races. I won't be using gels, though; instead, I'll be using dried dates and prunes for ride fuel. And I'll probably be eating a lot of potatoes and sweet potatoes over the next 30 days; without them, I don't think I'll take in enough carbohydrate to fuel my cycling training.

That's my plan. Whole 30 for the next 30 days, with a few modifications for the amount of exercise that I do. Training and racing will proceed as normal. I'll track the effects of the diet in my training log, including my reactions to foods as I get more sensitive to them. And I'll share my progress and results with you.

*I realize this is the pot calling the kettle black, since I make my living as a certified fitness professional of questionable qualifications. Headmistress Hartwig, I'm just joking. Please don't sue me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Race Report: Carl Dolan Memorial/Howard County Library Spring Classic W4/5

These are the best "podium girls."
I got to be on the podium! Whee!

Carl Dolan was a nervous race, last year. There had been crashes the year before (lots of them, with many injuries). The women's fields, which started out separated by a minute, ended up coming together into one big pack when the women's 3/4 field caught the 1/2/3 field. Rather than neutralizing the fields to keep us separate ("Sort yourselves out, ladies!"), the officials allowed us to race together. It was messy, and stressful, and didn't end well. I think everyone managed to stay upright, but it wasn't one of my favorite experiences ever. And I was taking things way too seriously, so much so that it wasn't fun for me (or anyone else). As a result, I was nervous about Carl Dolan.

But I needn't have been! DC Velo, the club that puts on Carl Dolan, went the extra mile to mark road hazards and fill in pot holes. The officials gave us 90 seconds between fields instead of 60 seconds. And when the 1/2/3 field threatened to lap us, the moto officials stopped us and let them go by, rather than allowing us to all come together.

Perhaps more importantly, the positive racing environment that I felt at Jeff Cup continued for this race! Maybe it's because there's a critical mass of us that know each other well this year; maybe we're all more experienced; maybe it's down to smaller field sizes than what we had last year; I'm not sure why it feels so much better, but I think it's bigger than my own attitude and experience. I hope everyone feels as welcomed and supported in our 4/5 races as I feel.

Anyway, the race.

VWS had two women in the 4/5 field and two in the 1/2/3 field. The fields were separate, though, so we wouldn't be working together. That left the two of us vs. the peloton. We made a tentative plan as we warmed up, but mostly agreed that our goals were to ride safe, ride smart, and enjoy the racing. Carl Dolan features a two-mile circuit with one big climb going up to the finish line and one fast-ish descent going into a hard right turn.

Our VWS plan was to stay near the front and ride heads-up. There were attacks from the beginning of the first lap, which we took turns covering without needing to communicate very much. I looked around periodically to check and make sure my teammate was nearby; I knew if I didn't see her, I might need to cover the next surge. We tried an attack at the bottom of the sharp right-hander, riding off of our awesome cornering skills (I don't think they're that much better than anyone else's, just to be clear). But everyone attacks there, and nothing was going to stay away from that point.

There were a few surges up the hill where I had to dig deep to stay in touch with the peloton. I felt myself sliding to the very back of the pack multiple times! I attacked over the crest of the hill at one point, and stayed away for . . . not very far. Maybe the first quarter of the lap? That was the third or fourth or fifth lap; I'm not sure. I have footage from my GoPro, which I will consult (and post!). I don't remember the details of the race very well; it's all foggy in my brain.

On our eighth lap of ten, the moto officials warned us that we might be lapped and that he would keep us to the right so the 1/2/3 field could pass us. We waited and waited for them to ride by, but they slowed down just enough that they weren't coming by us. Finally, the moto pulled us over into a driveway to let them pass; his concern was that they would finally come past us right at the finish line, making a huge mess as two fields tried to finish uphill with riders attacking too soon and dying and other riders coming past them . . . It was a good choice, and I'm glad they made it. I know there were people in my field who didn't like the choice, but I was very grateful for it.

As a result of the neutralization and because we'd been lapped, the moto told us that we would come around and get the bell. In other words, we would be on our last lap after we crossed the line again. I expected very hard riding as soon as we got going again. And, just to make sure the riding was hard, I put in a hard dig at the sharp right hander (yes, where everyone attacks and no one stays away). I got caught on the climb, and managed to cling on to the pack as they came by. Then I re-positioned towards the front (but not on the front) of the pack and determined to sit in until the last possible moment.

On the back stretch of the final lap, an NCVC rider attacked. It was a good place to attack, too! She got a sizable gap on everyone, and no one seemed very motivated to chase; NCVC certainly wasn't going to chase down their own rider, and my teammate and I were both content to let the other, larger teams do most of the work to bring it back. I sort of expected her to blow up on the final climb, anyway. A Sticky Fingers rider and a Bike Lane rider did most of the work to keep her within reach.

Then we came around the last corner, and I can't remember much. I think I tried to stay out of the wind. A Phase Cycling rider attacked way too early, but I think that was part of their team plan. I remember coming around her as she faded. The pace was hard up the hill. I was barely hanging on, but I knew the pain would be over soon. I found my teammate's wheel and thought, "Oh! This is perfect! This is what we're supposed to do at the end of races!" I was hoping I could find an extra gear at the top of the hill and pick up places, but it was clear by the time we came in sight of the finish line that the only person I would be able to pass with my deteriorating legs was my own teammate. I counted the people in front of me, and estimated that we'd finished fourth and fifth. And that was a good result.

Turns out that one of the riders I counted was a leftover from the 1/2/3 field, though, and the two of us got third and fourth! We both got to stand on the podium together and represent our team. That was a really great, exciting result. We rode smart, we made good choices, we worked together without even having to talk to each other, and we both ended up on the podium. And we had fun!

I wish I could have had more left after that final climb, but I considered it a victory to make it up the hill in touch with the group I was in. Even without a final kick to the finish, I felt like I gave 100% in the finale. I'm very happy with my personal results and our team results on the day. We also had a fourth place in the men's masters 35+ and a fifth place in the women's 1/2/3!

And we had fun!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Jamie's Training Food: Man Bars

I made these for last weekend's Jefferson Cup, and they were a big hit with the whole women's peloton! They're also easy to pack for long days in the saddle:

Adapted from South Your Mouth's Man Bars

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or nuts of your choice)
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened, condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
About 1 cup powdered sugar (optional)

Dump. Mix. Line a square (I used an 8 inch) baking tin with parchment paper or foil. Use non-stick foil or grease it up really well; these are going to be sticky! Smooth batter evenly in tin. Bake at 350* for 30 minutes or so. Let the pan cool completely before doing anything else.

Two options here: Cut the sheet into bars, like granola bars; or cut into squares and toss in the powdered sugar. I tried both, and both are good. I liked the unsugared ones more myself, but everyone who tried them was a big fan of the powdered sugar version. I think the sugarless version is easier to eat while riding, though. After all, VWS team kit is mostly black!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Race Report: Jefferson Cup 2017 (W4/5)

Jeff Cup was one of my first big races last season, and I have good memories of it. It's a circuit race, 3 laps of 10 miles each for the 4/5 women. Our race ran concurrent with the 5 men and the 1/2/3 women, each starting a few minutes in front of us. The course is beautiful and rolling, with one sustained climb (there's a Trump Winery at the top, so everyone calls it Trump) that takes an eternity to climb (not really, it's like a 90-second hill w/ average grade of 5%). The rest of the course is rolling, twisting roads, with punchy climbs and some fast turns. The last turn is deceptively far from the finish line, and slightly uphill. It's a great course in a beautiful part of the country, and the race has been run for 27 years--it is dialed in! 

Before the race, I got to catch up with a lot of familiar faces. One of the best parts about being part of a local cycling scene is getting familiar with enough of the women that every weekend is a reunion. It's fun to chat before the race, and helps to calm the nerves. One of my goals for this season is to stay zen and relaxed in all races, with a special focus on not taking it too seriously. After all, we're out there to have fun!

On the neutral roll-out, all three of my VWS teammates came to the front with me. We didn't plan it that way, and we didn't mean to send a message of controlling the race (that wasn't our plan). It was cool that we moved in a unified way without talking to each other about it. And it said to me that the field respects and trusts our team, which is cool.

After the neutral roll-out, we re-staged for the W 4/5 start. I tried to start second row on a teammate's wheel, but got a poor start and had to make up places right from the beginning. I was boxed in on all sides with no teammates nearby--a situation that I wanted to rectify ASAP! Jeff Cup had a rolling closure system this year, which meant we had the whole road to race on. I can't tell you how nice it is not to have to worry about a center-line rule! But we are all so used to racing with the center-line rule, all of the women seemed to forget that we could take the whole road. And so I got boxed in, and stuck behind a woman who was kind of slow up the first few climbs. It took me a while to come around her, but eventually I did and tucked in on a teammate's wheel. I was the B rider for the day, so I tried to stay out of the wind as much as possible.

The first lap wasn't easy, but there weren't any significant attacks. A few women set a moderately hard tempo up front. One in particular, an unattached rider in Specialized kit, was doing tons of work! I kept wondering who she was doing work for. Turns out herself, because she made all the selections of the day and finished in the top group. Kudos to her!

My legs were hurting by the end of the first lap from hard pacing up the hills, so I moved myself as close to the front as I could before the second trip up Trump Hill. I was hoping that would give me room to slide back in the pack without losing touch. As we swooped around the corner before the hill, one of the riders that we'd specifically marked (she won Black Hill last weekend) attacked, and without thinking I followed her. I sat up quickly, remembering that it wasn't my job to chase her down (good thing, because I couldn't have stayed with that surge anyway). I called out to my A teammate to see if she could cover the attack, but she didn't have the legs to go with it, either. Fortunately, we saw a third teammate come by in hot pursuit, and I thought, "Thank god she has it!"

I definitely didn't have it. I don't know if it was the initial surge to cover the attack that blew me out (I don't think so, because I didn't stick with it for that long), or if the pace was just that high going up Trump Hill, but I slid further and further back, away from the lead group, away from the chase group, out of touch with almost everyone else. I suffered going up that hill; I suffered with the pain of a thousand stubbed toes!

I did make it to the top of Trump Hill without puking or dying, and looked around to see what help I could get in chasing back on. There was another woman a little bit ahead of me, and a woman I knew from NCVC a bit ahead of her. I was able to catch on to the closest wheel, then we worked together to pull up to the NCVC rider. A Charlottesville Racing rider (who'd dropped her chain on Trump Hill, major bummer) caught us, and we had four people rolling turns. Then I saw a teammate in the distance, and the four of us were able to take turns pulling up to her. We had a good group of 5, and we were coordinating well, but I was just dying. I had to skip several turns, and I almost lost touch with the group. Eventually I recovered, and we picked up a sixth rider, the youngest in our field--a rider from Rock Creek Velo who's only 13!

We were all suffering to get back onto the chase group (except for my teammate and the woman from C'ville, who were holding the chase together and keeping it organized). I had recovered enough by then to slot in and take extra pulls as gaps opened. After chasing for three quarters of a lap, we got back on to the main chase group near the start of the third lap. Their pace was not easy, though, and rest in the group was a relative thing. As soon as we got up to them, my VWS teammate and the chick from C'ville told the group that we would help contribute to the chase right after we rested up.

Our pace was steady but manageable going into the pre-Trump-Hill rollers, and then I dropped my chain on the first one. I tried to shift it back, but my front derailleur is a big issue for me and it wouldn't hop back on (I have a K-edge chain catcher, too, mind you). I stopped and pulled it back on to the little chain ring, and a bystander offered me a push to get me going again (which made me feel so pro). Unfortunately, my calf muscle cramped when I tried to clip my foot in, and I almost fell over (thank you, innocent bystander, for catching me twice). I was eventually able to clip back in, but the commissaire's moto sped past me, and I figured I was off the back for good. I was so disappointed, after working so hard to get back into the group, to be derailed by my front derailleur.

The women's 1/2/3 field had been neutralized for our race to pass theirs in the second lap (because we are a bad-ass bunch), and now they were getting ready to re-pass me. Their lead moto came up alongside me to let me know they were about to pass, and to stay to the right. They went past, and as they did I saw my chase group up ahead! They had also been neutralized for the 1/2/3 field. I was able to stop with them and get back in the bunch! Best of all, everyone seemed happy to see me, and glad that my dropped chain hadn't ended my race. The NCVC woman who'd started chasing back on with me way back after Trump Hill v. 2 was also able to catch the group while we were stopped. We all had an extra drink and a few deep breaths before they let us go again.

At that point, we weren't sure whether or not the lead group had been neutralized too, but we figured chasing them down wasn't going to happen. Our group committed to riding well and riding safe, but not necessarily easy for the rest of the race. We had a great time, the peloton communicating well and keeping things fast but safe. Coming around the final corner, I found my VWS teammate's wheel; we were both on the same page, I could tell without having to talk to her, that she would lead me out to hopefully place well in the inevitable group sprint that was coming.

The two of us stayed steady and tight, pretty far back in the pack, but with room to move outside to the left when the time came. With around 500 m to go, I told her to start moving me up, and she accelerated around the left side of the pack. Unfortunately, we came around a curve and saw there, in the left lane, two riders down and an ambulance behind them. The pack slowed, unsure what to do, and we eased back in to the right lane, our rhythm disrupted. She was able to regain some speed after passing the ambulance, and I came around her to put in a semi-sprint, but it was only good enough for fourth place out of the chasing group and 10th overall.

Still, it was a very successful day for us! Our VWS teammate who covered the big break was able to sprint in safely for third, so we had a rider on the podium (and none of us got caught in the crash, which was a blessing)! I've never been in such a positive and encouraging race before, either! The chase group communicated and moved together like we were one team. We were still racing each other, but we all respected each other and were committed to having a great, safe race. It was a really cool thing to be a part of! More importantly, I think that our team, the VWS ladies, were a not-insignificant part of that positive racing environment. I look forward to making our team mark on the women's fields not only with wins and podium placings, but by helping to foster a racing culture that is safe and welcoming while still competitive and challenging.

I do feel like I didn't live up to my personal potential in this race, but that just fires me up for next weekend's races! Thanks to all my teammates and fellow competitors for making such a fun and memorable race! And thanks to our team sponsors, who make our racing possible, and the race sponsors and organizers, who make the races possible!