Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lake Wappapello Trail

We've been spending a few days in Southeastern Missouri visiting some of Chris' family, and today we went for a ride at Lake Wappapello State Park. The trail was supposed to be 15 miles and multi-use for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. We were expecting warmer weather in Missouri, but it was only about 32 degrees, foggy and misting when we started and I was dressed pretty warmly, but was still afraid I was going to be too cold. However, as soon as we got rolling I was immediately wishing I had less clothing.

It was a really fun trail, although there was some hike-a-bike involved. There were a few significant hills, and wet leaves, wet roots and wet rocks don't make for very good traction. I ended up walking up a few of the hills. The strangest thing for me was the rocks—I'm just not used to big rocks on the trails in Michigan. I did ride a lot slower than I would have at home because of some of the obstacles, but I think it was really good for me to work on my bike-handling skills. My lone crash came on the way back and hardly hurt at all.

We ended up riding for about an hour and 20 minutes, and probably rode about 5 miles total. We rode out and back. It was a great time and I actually did a couple shallow stream crossings. The best part was a decent downhill at the very end. I even let myself go a little bit fast. We had a great time. Today we're going to go out to the nature preserve for a hike.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ella Sharp Ride

We had a team ride yesterday. Five people showed up, including Chris and I. We met at 2:30 at Ella Sharp Park in Jackson. From 9:00 yesterday morning to the time we were gathering to ride, the temperature had plummeted from about 40 degrees to about 20 and the winds were very high. I'm still trying to amass some winter riding gear so I'm improvising with my clothing selections and I was a little worried. It wouldn't have been so bad, but the wind was biting right through everything I had. As I discussed previously, the tights I have are not really meant for very cold winter riding. Luckily, I wore a pair of wind pants over them which I intended to take off before beginning the ride. In the parking lot getting ready I quickly decided I was leaving them on. In fact, in the several seconds it took me to put my wheel on my bike while my hands were bare, my fingers froze up so badly I could barely move them. I had to hop back in the car, turn it on and hold my fingers in front of the heat vents for a while to warm them up so I could even use them.

We were just starting on the trail when Chris decided to turn back and wait in the car because he was dressed completely inappropriately. His tights were as light as mine and he had nothing over them. (I was also wearing his balaclava since I can't find mine. I offered to give it back, but I think that was the least of his worries at that point.) I continued bringing up the rear. I actually had a really good time despite the cold and the fact that I fell three times and feel a little bit like someone beat me up now. Once I got going, I really warmed up a lot. At first I thought I wasn't going to be able to ride because it seemed like I couldn't get up the smallest of hills. I think the cold was really sapping my energy, but after a while I got in a little bit of a rhythm and felt a lot better. One of the guys, Dave, refused to let me be last even though I was by far the slowest, and he and Scott took turns riding behind me.

I really liked the trail. I had never been on it before and it was a little weird to ride it since I spent most of my formative years just a few miles away. Our fearless leader Jake was describing some of the things that had been there since he was a kid and since he is only a couple years younger than me, they were there when I was a kid, too. I guess I missed them then because at that point in my life I was usually in my bedroom with my nose in a book. I did feel a bit demoralized when I realized I was the only one in the group on a geared bike and I was still a lot slower than everyone else, but those are the things I have to get over.

The trail was quite clear in some parts and the ground was frozen enough to make riding across it pretty easy. However, there were several patches that were very icy. I thought I did well on the icy parts, even though I did walk a few of them. The fear monster caught up with me a little. I do feel less bad about walking over icy patches than I do about walking down (what are in my mind) gnarly downhills. There were a few places where the snow was heavy and somewhat deep that called for some hike-a-bike. Granted, I did more hike-a-bike than everyone else there, but I still felt proud of what I accomplished. I probably rode 85 - 90 percent of the ride, which made me happy. We ended up riding for about an hour and 15 minutes, which I thought was good, particularly given the weather.

Afterwards we went to a bar and ordered food. The guys had a few beers and a couple of them played pool. I thought it was a really good team event, despite the low turnout.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Training Log 12/17/07 - 12/23/07

Spinervals Aero Base Builder, 1 hour and 20 minutes

Rest Day

Spinervals Recovery & Technique, 45 minutes

Spinervals Sweating Buckets, 50 minutes

Rest Day (unplanned)

On the Road with Coach Troy DVD, 2 hours

Trail ride, 1 hour and 15 minutes

Total = 6 hours and 10 minutes

Riding at Lake Placid

We had the best of intentions for riding the trail yesterday. The weather had warmed up considerably in the last few days, and the snow from last weekend's dumpfest was getting scarcer and scarcer. We spent most of the morning at the house waiting for a FedEx package they had been trying to deliver, inexplicably, at the exact same time, three weekdays in a row. It reminded me of the joke, "What's the definition of insanity?" "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

Luckily, since it was Saturday, we were finally able to retrieve the package, which made me especially happy since it was apparently a present for me. Note to online businesses: If you are going to require a signature when a package is delivered, it is best to warn the purchaser ahead of time. Note to FedEx: Don't check "final attempt" on the door tag if it is not the final attempt. This causes the deliveree to have to call the FedEx 800 number several times and upon not being able to get through, drive to what he thinks is the "main" FedEx location in the area, only to find out it is not the correct location, then have to return to the website tracking mechanism the next morning, only to be confused and bewildered to find out that the package is "out for delivery," and so to have to call the 800 number again and find out the package is indeed out on the truck again and wait around all morning for the truck to show up.

Okay, now that that's taken care of, back to the stuff that actually has to do with riding. We drove out to Rose Lake, marvelling at the fact that it was 40 degrees out and would be a much warmer ride than last weekend's. Chris hit the trail first and came back several seconds later to let me know the ride was not going to happen. Being the obstinate sort I am, I had to try for myself, only to set my own personal record for soonest crash after arriving at the trail. There was still enough snow on the trail to make riding impossible. Due to its slushy nature, it was all we could do to get one revolution out of our tires before sliding off the trail. Chris commented that we should have brought our hiking shoes, which would have been a great idea, but it was too late.

Now I realize that my hero, Alaska Jill, rides in these types of conditions all the time. However, there is the fact that the very race she's training for could turn out to contain these sorts of conditions, whereas that is extremely unlikely for summer mountain bike racing in Michigan. For us, I think actual riding is much more beneficial than hike-a-bike, so we headed home to the trainer.

Now here's where Lake Placid enters the story. Our newest Coach Troy DVD is from the "On the Road with Coach Troy" virtual reality series. Each one consists of Coach Troy riding outside and switches between his helmet cam and a camera following him. He talks pretty much non-stop through the entire DVD, but there is much less gear shifting. This particular DVD is 3 hours in length.

We had some hours to make up from Friday. In an unspoken agreement, we arrived home from work, sat around in the living room watching t.v., and did nothing else all evening. We never agreed not to ride the trainer, but neither one of us even brought it up. However, I think we both knew we'd have to make it up on the weekend. We were also scheduled to ride for an hour and 20 minutes on Saturday as regular training. So, we ended up doing about 2 hours of the DVD before stopping. We didn't do the whole thing because we were tired, my toes were hurting and we wanted to save something for today's ride.

The DVD was actually really enjoyable. It follows the route of the bike portion of the Lake Placid Ironman Triathalon. We're not sure if it will continue to be less boring than our other DVDs when it is no longer new and novel, but I guess we'll find out.

Today we're supposed to try another team training ride. We're trying out a trail down in Jackson at Ella Sharp Park. If the trail isn't rideable, we're meant to use the paved bike path as a backup. Chris is normally pretty anti-bike path. He thinks they're really boring, which is often true, but I feel that riding outside on the bike path is preferable to riding on the trainer for the fifth day this week and he agreed. If anyone would have told me two years ago that I'd ever want to ride my bike outside in the winter, I would have said they were crazy, but riding the trainer, though very useful, is an easy way to get cabin fever. Right now it's pouring rain, but according to the forecast it's supposed to stop raining and cool down before our ride, so I'm hoping it doesn't get cancelled again. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm on a team!

I can't believe it. For the first time since 10th grade, I'm actually on a team again. Chris and I decided to join the MMBA Mid-State Chapter Team. Tryouts were simple—Jake sent out an e-mail and we answered it. So, it's not really like we were chosen or anything, but I think being on a team is good for several reasons:

  1. Camaraderie
  2. Motivation
  3. Accountability
  4. Cool new jerseys

So far, we've had one team meeting, one trainer night (which I skipped because I'm not excited about taking my trainer down, hauling it across town and setting it up again) and one trail ride (which was cancelled due to the snowstorm). I'm really excited about racing this year. What with the racing season and the wedding, I really can't wait for spring to be here (but I'm going to have to, because I still have tons of stuff left to do).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Training Log 12/10/07 - 12/16/07

I was thinking yesterday that I should start recording what I do for training somewhere, and this seemed as good of a place as any.

Spinervals Recovery & Technique, 45 minutes

Spinervals Aero Base Builder, 1 hour and 20 minutes

Spinervals Sweating Buckets, 50 minutes

Spinervals Aero Base Builder, 1 hour and 20 minutes

Rest Day

Trail Ride, 30 minutes

45 minutes on the trainer (watching a movie)

Total = 5.5 hours (It seemed like a lot when I was doing it, but when I add it up it doesn't sound like much!)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Outside Ride

I mentioned in a previous post that I hadn't really spent any time riding in the snow before and my first experience with it was at last week's Kisscross race. It's weird that I've actually had one mountain bike or another for eight or nine years or so, but there's so much about the experience I was missing before now. Chris and I decided to go out and ride at Rose Lake yesterday and I was so glad we did. I had a blast. I don't have much cold weather gear, as I've mentioned before, but I improvised and it actually turned out okay. The only thing I really missed was a pair of winter tights. Just about all of me was pretty warm, but my legs were freezing in my thin tights.

I ended up using a handwarmers and footwarmers to help supplement my flimsy mountain bike gloves and mountain bike shoes and it surprisingly worked very well. I was afraid the handwarmers would be worthless since my fingers would be colder than the rest of my hands. I told Chris before we started riding that I wished they made tiny little finger warmers that you could put in each finger of your glove. However, it turned out my concern was unwarranted as the heat spread to my entire hand fairly quickly and by the end of the ride my hands were actually hot. My only wardrobe malfunction involved having to stop fairly soon in the ride because one of the foot warmers had shifted and became wedged between my toes and the front of my shoe and was actually hurting my toes. I stopped, took my shoe off and rearranged it and it was fine for the rest of the ride.

We were a little nervous when we got in the parking lot of the trailhead because the lot was one big sheet of ice with a dusting of snow on top and was extremely slippery. It also looked like there was a lot more snow on the trail than what we had at home. (Around our house there was still lots of grass poking through and very little snow accumulated on the ground.)

The snow was actually a lot of fun to ride in, though. There were a couple of icy spots, but most of the trail was a layer of crusty snow. I was fairly easy going with the bonus of the tires making a satisfying crunching noise as they broke through the crust. We only stayed out for about a half hour but we had a great time and it beat riding the trainer any day.

I felt really positive about the ride. I have to try and remain that way instead of thinking about all the time I've wasted with a perfectly good mountain bike not doing anything fun with it. If I let myself think like that all the time I'd be really depressed, so I'm trying just to think about the whole new world I've opened up for myself and all the new experiences that are in front of me.

We are supposed to be doing a team ride (more on the team in a later post) later today and I'm really excited about that because I had so much fun yesterday and because the trail we're supposed to ride is one I've never been to before. I'm hoping those plans aren't going to be thwarted, though, because we got dumped on with snow last night and more is coming our way today. I'm going to be really bummed if I end up having to get back on the trainer again before Monday.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Season Finale Success

Yesterday's race was a real learning experience for me. I'm pretty sure I had never ridden on snow before and honestly, when I was riding my practice lap, I almost talked myself into not racing at all. I'm really glad I decided to race, though, because in my opinion, it was my best race all season.

Deciding which race performances are better or worse is a little subjective. After all, the races are all at different venues, with different courses, so it's not like I can determine whether my time from one race to another is faster. I can't really use where I place as an indicator either, since a lot of the people are different and even the size of the group fluctuates pretty wildly.

For example, yesterday I came in 10th out of 11th, beating only a 7-year-old. At Manhattan Park I was 19 of 23, which is technically better, but I feel like I rode better and faster this time. I also felt like I pushed myself harder than I have in any other race.

I could consider it depressing that I pushed myself harder and still came in at the back of the pack, but I feel encouraged by it instead. You see, something happened (or more accurately, didn't happen) in this race for the first time. I finished the race without being lapped! For some reason, not being lapped felt even better than lapping someone else did two races ago. I think one of the reasons I felt so good about it was that my fiance, who was watching and taking pictures, told me that the leader was inching up on me and was ready to lap me. Instead of resigning myself to the inevitable like I normally would do, I kicked it up a notch and stayed ahead of the leader. I crossed the finished line to start my last lap just before he did to finish. It was a moral victory for me more than anything else.

I also feel good about the way I made myself race when I was so discouraged during my practice lap. I was so nervous about the snow because it felt so different. I felt a little out of control in the beginning. Once I got out there and began racing, I was a little cautious at first, but started to get used to it and got braver. I think getting over some of my mental hurdles is going to be my toughest challenge with racing.

Overall, it was a great day. It was sad that it was the last race of the season, but I am determined to train hard, improve and come back stronger next season. These are some of the positives I took away (some small, others not so small):
  • I didn't get lapped!
  • I didn't crash.
  • I pushed myself harder than I thought I could.
  • I didn't quit.
  • I had a blast.
  • I won a t-shirt.

There are more pictures from the race on flickr.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

No Slackers

As I mentioned previously, my training this winter will be extremely trainer-heavy, and today was no exception. Since I didn't have a race today, I was supposed to do the "No Slackers Allowed" DVD, which is in the "competition" series. The DVDs I use most often are in the "fitness" series, with the only real exception being the recovery DVD. So, I was somewhat apprehensive, but figured I had better get it out of the way fairly early in the day.

The DVD was supposed to be a substitute for my race, and it did fairly well in most respects. Obviously missing was the socializing aspect, since I was alone upstairs except for my dogs, who chased each other around until they got tired and then crashed on the old, cruddy couch that's up there.

I noticed two things about this particular DVD:

  1. It looked different. Instead of the usual setting in a ballroom at the Belvedere Hotel, it was on a beach, only marginally more interesting. There was something slightly disturbing to me about using a bike trainer on a beach, particularly since it was reasonably warm, if the apparel of the participants and Coach Troy are any indication. Although it was pretty grey, it was perfectly acceptable weather for outdoor riding. Beyond the weird setting, I also noticed that it just looked old. Coach Troy looked a little younger, with a nerdier looking hairdo and everything else just looked a little outdated. This was confirmed when I got to the end of the DVD and instead of the usual URL for the Spinervals Web site, a mailing address was offered for inquiries. I was disturbed again when I looked at the date on the back of the case. When did 1997 start looking outdated? (Yes, I realize that was 10 years ago, but when I think about the fact that I graduated from high school in 1991 and college in 1995, it makes me wonder where all that time went.)
  2. It was hard. Now I probably didn't really use as much effort as I do in a race, mostly because I'm aware of the fact that I'm not actually racing. It's really easy to lapse into soft-pedalling, but overall I thought it was pretty high intensity. A particularly hard part was a five-minute interval that's supposed to simulate a prologue in the Tour. Again, I don't think for a minute it was as hard as being in the Tour, but for me it was quite difficult. Since I was able to finish, I have decided that I must not be a slacker.

Overall, I feel pretty good about how I got through it, especially given the fact that I was sprawled on the couch, sloth-like for the entire day yesterday as I result of some questionable decisions on Friday night. I still wasn't feeling great when I woke up this morning, but I actually feel a lot better after riding.

I am glad I liked this DVD. I'm going to be riding it a lot in the next several weeks since next Saturday is the final Kisscross race of the season. When that happens, I'll have to get outside on my bike to ride at least once or twice a week and hope the paltry amount of cold weather gear I own will hold out until Christmas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Shake it Up

It was only a matter of time before I posted a picture of one or both of my puppy girls on my blog—this one of Maddy seemed fitting for today's post.

Warning: What you are about to read may be nauseatingly philosophical and soul searching and not necessarily related to bicycling.

I did a lot of thinking today at work. It always amazes me how much I can think about other things while I'm working and still manage to get stuff done. I guess that's part of the problem, really.

All the time I have spent thinking about training, gearing up for training, racing and actually training, in addition to reading the blogs of those I aspire to be half as tough as, has really done a number on me. I realized today that rather than simply motivating me to be better, stronger, faster and braver on a bike, it seems to be seeping into my day-to-day life. I'm starting to question all kinds of things in my life that I thought I wanted because they were safe.

I've already mentioned multiple times on this blog that I am courage-challenged. However, it's mostly been in reference to bikes and going downhill. I'll admit now that I lack courage when it comes to life as well. I like to feel like I'm not coasting, but won't go so far as to actually enjoy doing something that takes a lot of work. This is hard to explain, because I wouldn't say I'm lazy or that I don't work hard at things. Let's use my job as an example. I've been at my job for seven years. I have a lot of responsibility and a pretty heavy workload. I feel like I have a good work ethic and I am not averse to putting in long hours when necessary. But my job is easy. By this, I mean that I know how to do everything and have pretty much mastered it. I have to think when I do my job, but it's the same kind of thinking I've been doing for seven years and I've got it down pat. There are no real challenges on the horizon.

Now, normally, this situation that I am in would be my ideal, meaning I don't mind putting the effort into it because I know I can do it and do it well. My biggest feeling of comfort comes from feeling capable (i.e., safe). But lately challenging myself has seemed like a really good idea and I am wondering if am preventing myself from growing, not just in the world of bicycling, but in my everyday life. I really think, as much as it scares me, that things might just need some shaking up.

I can count the brave things I've done in my life on one hand. Maybe it's time to rectify that. I don't know how this feeling will manifest itself what havoc it could wreak on my life in the coming months, but whatever it is, I think it just might be good for me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


That's the best word to describe my performance at the Kisscross race today. I was still flying pretty high from the excitement of my new bike and my relative victory last week and I guess I let it go to my head a little. You see, I walked an entire section of each lap and I foolishly convinced myself that it didn't matter. Even worse, this section was a downhill, so everyone who didn't walk down it was going a lot faster than I was.

As previously mentioned in my blog, I am a complete wuss. I am so worried about crashing—which is ridiculous because most of the time when I crash I get right up again with nothing too bad as a consequence—that I can't bring myself to ride anything I think is gnarly. So, when I came upon this downhill section during my practice lap that was slightly off camber and had a bit of a messy part around a tree, I told myself I would try to ride it during the race. The race arrived and I couldn't ride it during the first, second or third laps.

The discouraging thing about all of this is that I was riding faster and stronger than I think I ever have in one of these races and I wasn't too far off the main pack when we reached the downhill section. It was a really bad decision because I couldn't make up any of the time I took walking it, particularly since I walked it every time. I ended up finishing second to the last, slightly in front of an eight-year-old who was riding his first race. What made me feel even worse was that when I was watching the other classes race and I could see people going down it, it really didn't look that bad.

It wasn't all bad, though. Here are some positives:
  • I finished. At some point, I will stop thinking of this other than as a given, but for now it still feels like a huge accomplishment.
  • I realized today that I probably could be decent at this if I just continue to do it and gain some confidence and some intestinal fortitude.
  • I didn't crash.
  • I handled the sandy sections better than expected.
  • The weather was chilly, but not extraordinarily wet and sloppy like this venue has been in previous years (according to other riders who have ridden it before).
  • It was fun.
  • I got to see some cool people. The first is Danielle Musto, who is this seriously hardcore endurance racer I am in awe of. I read her blog pretty frequently, but have never actually seen her in person. I felt kind of like a groupie (not that I actually spoke to her). The other person I saw was Anne, who is also very hardcore. I actually kind of know Anne, but I hadn't seen her in a while and it was good to have a second to chat with her.
  • Chris didn't forget to charge the camera and got some good photos.

There, that makes it sound like a pretty good day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Little Victories

Our Internet service was down at home last night and I didn't get to post anything, so even though this has today's date on it, it is yesterday's blog.

I have an English degree. I use lots of words—big words, little words, words people have never heard of before. One of my friends confessed to me that she sometimes has to go for the dictionary after we have a normal, casual conversation.

However, one word I had probably heard but had definitely never used before two or three years ago is cadence. So, why is it that it had me so infuriated last night? Although it wasn't actually the word, but the cadence monitor on my computer. I couldn't get it to register anything but 0 and I'm doubtful that my cadence was actually 0.

Last night's trainer workout was "Ride Strong with Team Clydesdale." At one point, Coach Troy tells everyone to try to get their cadence above 120. Since my monitor wasn't working, I just tried to pedal as fast as I could and hope for the best. Several people have told me I could estimate my cadence or even count it out. I would have no idea how to even attempt that. I think the reason this frustrated me so much was that I have a burning desire to know how I am doing and what progess I am making at all times.

One thing made me feel better about my ride, though. There is a portion of the DVD when Coach Troy tells everyone do intervals of one minute each. During the first 45 seconds, you just ride in your big ring. During the last 15 seconds, you are supposed to pedal standing up. The last time I did this particular DVD, which was probably last February, I couldn't stand up and ride at all. This time I was able to ride standing up for the entire time required. It wasn't fast or smooth, but I did it. That must be progress and I suppose I can attribute it to all the extra miles I put in this year.

I finally got my hands on a semi-decent photo of me from Sunday's race, so I posted it here. And before anyone says anything (if anyone is actually reading this), I am aware that my helmet doesn't fit correctly. I'm working on a new one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Technique? What's that?

I officially started my new training program today. I know it's not that cold here compared to some other places, but the reality is that unlike Alaska Jill, who is my new hero, I'm probably not going to do a ton of outdoor winter riding. That means it's trainer city for me.

In order to make this activity somewhat more interesting, my fiance Chris decided to join the Spinervals DVD of the month club. This might seem like overkill, particularly since we already have about 10 of them, at least 6 of which still have the plastic overwrap intact.

I rode almost immediately when I got home so I wouldn't be tempted to forgo it altogether. Today's DVD was called Recovery and Technique and consisted of easy riding, spinning and one leg pedal drills. Though I've been riding my road bike somewhat sporadically for at least four years and I hang around a lot of "bike people," I had never actually attempted the one leg pedal drill before today. It's not easy. I think this "training" thing is going to be good for me.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's Not (Just) About the Bike

It was a good day for racing. It was sunny, though a bit brisk. The temperature flirted with 40, and it would have been pretty pleasant if not for the wind.

A few interesting things happened at my Kisscross race today. The first is that I actually rode a cyclocross bike. A friend who is down on his luck loaned it to me, hoping to get me to buy it from him. Even though I assured him that a cross bike is not in the budget this year, I was tempted enough to race with it. It now looks like it's going to turn into an early Christmas present.

Riding a cyclocross bike was both good and bad. The good things were that it was a heck of a lot easier to carry over barriers and push up hills than my heavy mountain bike, as well as the psychological boost I got from riding a cyclocross bike. It made me faster, however slightly, because I started racing, as opposed to just riding the course. Interestingly enough, it also messed with mind somewhat negatively.

In order to explain this phenomenon, I have to admit that I'm a huge wuss. I think the biggest barrier to being a mountain bike racer is not the fact that I need to lose weight, don't have a super expensive bike or that I'm out of shape. What I need more than anything else is to grow a pair. In fact, I'm probably one of the only people riding a mountain bike who actually prefers climbing to descending. Downhills scare the crap out of me.

Needless to say, going downhill on a cross bike was much scarier. This was because every time I looked down at the handlebars, etc., I thought "I am riding a road bike." This is bad since I'm the type of person who doesn't like to even ride over a two foot section of gravel or sand on my road bike.

The other problem stemmed from the fact that it was the first time I ever rode that bike and I was just wasn't used to it. However, time and riding will remedy that.

All in all, it was an extremely positive experience. Several good things happened, not the least of which was that I didn't finish dead last. The unofficial results showed that I came in 19th out of 23 racers. Granted, several of the people I finished ahead of were under 12. However, one was an actual adult male. This was incredibly uplifting for me.

I think the new bike played a role in my modest success and I'm looking forward to riding it in the two remaining races of the series. The bike was just the catalyst for me to go faster, though, I still had to do it.

To end on a positive note, I'd like to recount the good things about today's race:

  • I didn't finish last!
  • I didn't crash. (unless the one during my practice lap counts)
  • I get to get a new bike.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Introducing the accidental athlete ...

When I was in ninth grade, I walked out of pre-season conditioning for basketball and quit the team because the coach told us we had to run a mile. I joined the team again in tenth grade, but the coach told me before the season started that although she wasn't going to cut anyone, I shouldn't expect to get much playing time. I went home and cried for a while and then I sat the bench. And that was the end of my basketball playing days.

Fastforward about 15 years and I'm on a beach at Lake Michigan, being told by my boyfriend that he can't relate to me because I never do anything that's challenging just for the sense of accomplishment. A few days later I got dumped.

Having set up my story that way, how is it that I find myself two months away from 35 and contemplating the 2008 mountain bike racing season? Why is it suddenly not enough to be the person who always knows the right way to say something or the one who knows how to spell everything? Why am I not satisfied with just planning my wedding, working at my communications job, watching hockey and playing with my puppies? I don't have the answers to any of these questions—I just know that I did have something competitive in me. It was dormant for my entire childhood and so far in my adult life. The only thing that's different was that I started riding a bike.

Let me clarify something here. I've had a bike for several years. In fact, I've had multiple bikes for several years. I rode them occasionally and sometimes even broke a sweat. Eventually, I started hanging out with "bike people," riding a little more, and making a lot of grand-sounding pronouncements. These pronouncements mainly consisted of the following:

"I'm going to ride a century this year!"

"I'm going to do a mountain bike race this year!"

Of course, each year went by and I didn't do either one.

This year was a little different. I still didn't race in any mountain bike races. But I rode. And I rode. I rode at least three times as many miles as I have any other year. I was suddenly the person who said "let's go ride," and I rode whether or not other people wanted to go with me.

And low and behold, in August I rode a century, which actually turned out to be closer to 110 miles due to my exceptionally poor navigational skills.

Then in the fall, when I usually don't even look at my bike, I went to a
Kisscross race.

And I rode it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Kisscross is a series of very low-key cyclocross-type races. Races consist of a course set up in a city park and participants have to ride around doing laps and at certain points, get off their bikes, pick them up and run over barriers. The number of laps you do depends on the course and the class you're racing.

Let me tell you about my racing experience.

It hurts. I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack the entire time. I love it. It's twisted and masochistic, but it's fun. In fact, I can think of very few things that are as much fun.

I'm racing in the beginner class and I consistently come in last. I mean, people's kids routinely beat me. I'm not kidding. My bike-handling skills need a ton of work, I don't have a super expensive bike and I'm godawful slow.

But I discovered something about myself. I love to push myself and I love to race. So next year I'm going to race my mountain bike. I'll probably suck, and I'll probably come in last, but I'm going to finish.

The first race I'm planning to do is on April 20. In the meantime, I'm going to condition myself and I'm going to train. Then I'm going to write about it.

That's what this blog is all about.