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.