Saturday, October 24, 2009

Race Across the Sky

Thursday night, despite having the schedule from hell lately, we were bound and determined to go see Race Across the Sky. For those of you living under a rock, Race Across the Sky is a documentary filmed at the Leadville 100 this year. Remarkably, they showed it in two different locations in Lansing (as well as other places around the country). And just so you don't have to wonder any longer, no we weren't in the movie, even though there were some crowd shots when racers were finishing.

Though I was looking forward to the movie, it ended up being much better than I expected. I'm not going to review the movie here, though, I just want to talk a bit about some of the things I took away from my viewing.
  • Dave Wiens is an incredibly nice guy. This is something I pretty much already knew, but it is obvious when you watch the movie and see the panel discussion before and after. Due to the fact that we  were in Colorado during Leadville and right after it, we heard about Dave Wiens a lot. He's a local boy, which is one of the reasons why they love him so much. But it's not just that—it's also how down to earth and unassuming he seems, even with all the success he's experienced. Now, don't get me wrong, I love, love, love Lance Armstrong, but I don't think anyone could ever call him unassuming or down to earth. I've been reading Dave's blog since we returned from Crested Butte. He lives in Gunnison, so it offered a good way to get a glimpse of that area. But I've found out from reading it (as much as you can from reading something and not actually meeting a person), that he is a really good guy. That was apparent in many parts of the movie, but never as much as when he thanks the volunteers when riding away from an aid station, getting ready to go back to chasing Lance. The race founder, Ken Chlouber, calls this part out specifically in the panel discussion after the movie, but it had already resonated with me, even before that.
  • Leadville is even harder than I'd imagined. I've heard it described on numerous Web sites, including that of Fat Cyclist, who has raced it nearly every year it has been in existence. Even so, the magnitude of gnarly is amplified by seeing the movie and watching people struggle through the course. I imagine in person it's even more so, particularly if you are the one racing. It's an incredibly nasty, tough race. Of course it would have to be for Lance Armstrong to call this the race that made him want to return to racing.
  • There are things that are much, much more disheartening than my last Kisscross experience, like having two knee replacement surgeries then training hard all year for one race, only to be turned away by one of your good friends (who also happens to be the race founder) four hours into it because you didn't make the cut off. It was really interesting to hear the back stories of some of the racers and to hear some of the motivation of those who weren't leading the race.
  • Even I am probably better at changing a tire than Lance Armstrong. I remembered hearing during the race that he had ridden the last bit of the race on a flat, but I had forgotten about it until I watched the movie. After Lance gets a flat with about seven miles left to go, he tries to put air in the tire with a CO2 cartridge (without doing anything else with the tire) and when that doesn't work, not knowing how far back Dave is, and not trusting his tire-changing skills, decides to ride the rest of the way on the flat. That being said, during the panel discussion after the movie, the other guys were ribbing him about it, saying he was looking for the team car to help him, and he took it in a very good natured way. But what was happening with his hair in that movie, anyway? It was crazy looking!
  • I really, really want to move to Colorado even more now, especially after hearing about some of the new races they're trying to organize. 
  • "You're better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can." Ken Chlouber 
If you haven't seen it, I would definitely recommend catching it on the DVD or the encore event on Nov. 12.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

We'll Call It the Race From Hell

Last Sunday, after a long day of going upstairs and downstairs and upstairs and downstairs all day long cleaning out the attic and the basement, I drove to Caledonia for some Kisscross. There was no doubt that I was tired and my legs were sore from all the stair action, but I felt decent when I started warming up. I was a bit uncomfortable given the fact that I couldn't find my tights anywhere and I was wearing my only pair of knickers (the same ones my beagle chewed a big hole in the butt of) with bike shorts. The place where the hole was was rubbing and the double chamois wasn't doing me any favors either. But all in all, I thought I would have an okay race.

I was excited after how competitive the last Kisscross race was, so I did something similar—I picked someone in the lineup I wanted to beat and I thought it would help motivate me. (And no, she wasn't wearing pink.) The race started and I hung off the back like I usually do, but I wasn't separated from the pack. I took the first hurdles okay, but there were too many people right in front of me to get close to them. My form needs a bit of work still, but it is definitely much better. 

Not even halfway into the first lap, disaster struck. (I know that will sound melodramatic, given what actually happened, but it was the beginning of a chain of frustrating events, which made it worse.) I was going down an extremely rooted downhill in a wooded section. As I started up the next hill, I tried to pedal and nothing happened. I had dropped my chain and spent a considerable amount of time trying to get it back on. 

By the time I got out of the woods, I couldn't see anyone in front of me and I think part of me gave up at that point. Still, I kept riding and promptly wiped out when I took a slippery corner too wide. When I got up, my brake was rubbing pretty bad and I stood there for a while trying to fix it. 

At this point, I was starting to get a bad attitude. I kept riding, but I was far behind everyone. I started getting lapped during my second lap. I had two more wipeouts in corners. One happened just as some riders were going past to lap me. One of them yelled "hang in there," which I took okay, but the other one said "careful." I didn't say anything, but I was seething. I guess that says something about where my attitude was. Things that normally would have sounded encouraging just sounded condescending and patronizing.

Another low point came when I was going through a set of chicanes near the end of the lap. Our friend Frank was on the sidelines cheering when he saw his 9-year-old son gaining on me. I have talked about Billy here before and we all know he's awesome, but Frank was cheering for him to lap me and I just felt demoralized.

Little did I know, the worst humiliation was yet to come. I rode my fifth lap with all the other racers off the course. There were however, some racers pre-riding for the next race, which they're not supposed to do. I snapped at one guy who acted like I was in his way. Apparently he didn't know I was still racing because he seemed contrite after he found out, but I just sounded like a huge jerk anyway.

I know I say this all the time, but I have never wanted to quit a race so badly before. It was absolutely the worst race I have ever had, hands down. Still, I somehow made myself keep going all the way to the mortifying finish. When I got to the very end, I came up a hill and saw that the racers were already lined up for the next race. Someone yelled for them to get out of the way and they started parting, Red Sea-like, in the middle so I could ride through them to the finish line. As I was riding through, they all started clapping and cheering. I wanted to disappear. 

Now if that had been my first race, or even my second, I might have found that encouraging. Given the circumstances, I just felt demoralized and embarrassed. 

All that said, there were some good things that happened during this race. Unfortunately, this post is far too long and I am going to be late for work, so I'll have to talk about them later. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Picture This, Only Snowier

In case you were wondering, I do still want to move to Crested Butte. We're still trying to work things out—scheming and planning. In fact, filling that big trash container last weekend was the first in many steps to get our house ready to go on the market. But things like this take time. It's not going to happen until sometime in 2010 at the absolute earliest.

So, what are we going to do in the interim, besides getting ready to move and all the other everyday stuff? Why plan another trip to Crested Butte, of course! In an unprecedented move, I have decided to forgo traditional Christmas present giving to and receiving from my husband and do one of those "let's buy something together instead of getting each other gifts" things I said I'd never do even after I got married.

In a fortuitous turn of events when we were flying out of Aspen in August to return from our trip, we volunteered to get bumped from an overweight plane (no comments from the peanut gallery, please). Not only did we still catch our connecting flight and make it home at the same time, we scored two free plane tickets for anywhere in the U.S. with no blackout dates. So, between free tickets and gifting each other, we decided we could have several days' vacation back in Crested Butte.

That way, we can accomplish several useful things:

  • We can get our Crested Butte fix since we've been pining away for it.
  • We can hopefully make some connections that will help us when we make our move.
  • We can silence those naysayers who claim we won't want to move to Crested Butte when we see what it's like in the winter (this means you, DG).
  • We can finally do something fun for New Year's.
  • I can spend my birthday in Crested Butte!
So, that's the plan. We reserved our tickets yesterday and we already have hotel reservations made. We fly out on New Year's Eve morning at 6. I can't wait!

By the way, for those of you who are wondering, I did end up racing on Sunday. However, it was such an inauspicious showing that I haven't really wanted to think about it. I'll get a recap posted soon, though. It's too horrible not to share.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How I Spent My Weekend

I hope I have some energy left for the race tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

6 Hours of Addison Oaks Race Report

We had a rare bit of sunshine last weekend, just in time for my last endurance race of the year. The day started out fairly well. Miraculously, I didn't get lost on the way to the venue and arrived with plenty of time to get ready. I parked in the pit area and registered. There was only one other woman registered for the 6 hour race, but it was still pretty early, so I thought that would probably change.

My race preparations didn't go so well. Chris had switched out my saddle the night before and yet again, I found myself scrambling at the last minute because I hadn't prepared well enough. The angle of my saddle didn't seem right and I tried without success to adjust it on my own. Ha! I couldn't get the screws to turn at all. Finally, feeling pathetic and girly, I broke down and asked the guy parked next to me to help. He didn't really understand how to do it either, though, so I finally gave up.

By the time I lined up to start, there were four women waiting to race the 6 hours. I didn't recognize any of them, though, and I didn't know any of their names, so I had no idea whether or not I was racing against any of the women who were close to me in the Michigan Endurance Cup standings. I hung out in the back, but remarkably, there were a few people behind me as I rolled over the grassy section on the way to the trail. Even so, they all passed me on the first uphill. My legs felt like lead as they usually do at the beginning of a race, so I just relaxed and settled in for a long, slow ride.

About two miles into the lap, I realized something was terribly, terribly wrong. My lower back was screaming in pain and it was all I could do to keep pedaling. I know my core isn't that strong, but usually my back just gets tired—there isn't actually pain. I had a sinking suspicion that my saddle was the culprit. I would be lucky if I could finish one lap.

I slogged through the rest of the lap extremely slowly. By the end, I was walking all the uphills. I could barely ride at all anymore. As I pulled through the checkpoint, Brent (the race promoter) gave me some encouraging words. I asked him to direct me toward the neutral bike shop support tent, but as it turns out, the guy who was supposed to be providing the support was out racing. Brent kindly took me over to the bike shop tent to make use of their tools and adjusted my saddle for me.

When I got on the bike again, I immediately felt the difference. Stopping for just a second at the pit area to top off my water, I started another lap. It was such a relief not to have an awkward saddle that was causing excruciating back pain that I felt awesome. It was a gorgeous day and though it was a bit cool, I warmed up fast. I was having fun going over all the little obstacles, enjoying the trail and just loving the ride. My race had been saved.

After another very short break, I started my third lap. By the time I had ridden a mile, I was exhausted and could barely get my legs to keep pedaling. What a disappointment! I knew I wasn't in optimal shape, but I didn't think it was that bad. I really just think it was so exhausting to slog through that first lap in pain that I got worn out faster than I would have otherwise.

When I finally finished the third lap, I went back to my car for a rest. I had already planned to leave an hour before the race was over because I had to get back to Lansing. I knew if I was going to make it through another lap I would need to take more than a short rest. After a few calculations, I realized I didn't really have time for another lap if I wanted to leave on time. It was an easy decision not to go back out again.

It was a pretty disappointing race, not only because I didn't do well, but because I'm still making the same stupid errors in judgment I was making earlier in the season. If anything, it seems I'm less prepared for races than I was before. Not only was I undertrained, I made really dumb choices by not having my saddle changed sooner so I would have time and help adjusting it prior to the race. I have one mountain bike race left this season. I will be ready for Iceman. I know I won't be able to improve my fitness that much before the race, but I will make sure my bike is ready.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Silver Lining

The conditions for yesterday's race seemed like a foregone conclusion. I awoke to clouds, cold and spitting rain. I drove through the same all the way to Grand Rapids. I started my warm up on a chilly, rainy course. And then, when I had finished my warm up laps and was practicing running the barriers over and over, the sun started peeking through the clouds. By the time I was in the thick of the race, the sun was shining full on, and I was sweating like crazy and wishing I'd left my jacket behind.
While I was doing my warm up laps, I was thinking that I really didn't want to race. This is nothing new. I constantly get nerved up before a race, but this felt different. It was more like I just didn't care. I don't remember ever feeling so apathetic. I think that coming in last all the time and never being competitive is starting to get to me. However, I haven't been practicing for nothing, and I didn't drive all the way there and pay my money just so I could bail. So I focused myself on one goal—doing a good job on my dismounts. I hoped that would be enough to get me through the race.

There was another big crowd at the starting line. I took my usual place at the back and started sizing up the people around me. There was a girl there in some kind of all pink riding kit. For some reason I fixated on her and decided I wanted to beat her. She was skinny, looked pretty serious, and I didn't figure I had much of a chance, but I guess I needed more motivation to race.

We took off and I started out riding fairly hard. Something was different. There were people ahead of me, but they weren't far ahead of me. I was feeling pretty good, so I shifted and started speeding up. I passed a few people. The girl in the pink was quite a bit ahead of me, but I was gaining on her.

By the second lap, I was still riding hard, but wondering how long I could sustain the effort without blowing up. I felt more competitive than I've ever felt in a race, and instead of just deciding to slow down because I was tired, I wanted to push myself until I truly couldn't take it anymore.

Somewhere in lap 3, I caught up with the girl in pink and passed her, along with a guy who was right behind her. She was breathing down my neck for at least another entire lap. At one point, she passed me briefly, but I passed her back almost immediately. The guy was still there, hanging back a bit behind both of us. Finally, it was the last lap. I about killed myself trying to sustain the effort. My lungs were burning and I thought I was going to explode any minute.

In the last set of switchbacks, I was struggling to stay ahead of her and the guy, who were both just behind me. As the last stretch began, she suddenly motored past me. The guy started to go, but I wasn't going to let both of them pass me at the end. I dug in and found something there to stay in front of him.

I never did catch her, but I came in 29th out of 34, meaning I beat 5 whole people. I felt better about this race than I have felt about a race in a long time. Needless to say, I can't wait for the next one. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to wait two weeks.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I Might Get the Hang of This Before the Season is Over After All

Burchfield was lousy with deer last night when I went out there with my cross bike after work. I saw at least 10 of them in the hour and a half I was there. Other than the fact that it was too cold for bike shorts and I had to wear knickers and my eyes watered non-stop the entire time (really bad allergies this year for the first time since college), I had an excellent ride. I did two laps of the super secret cross loop, which included two go-rounds with my nemesis downhill, the one that inexplicably scares me on my mountain bike. Last night I rode that downhill full-tilt, with not even a hint of brakes. My confidence level on the cross bike is clearly growing—now my skill level and fitness just need to catch up.

I got the inevitable strange looks from people when I was riding and one person even asked me why I was riding trails on a road bike. I didn't take time to try and explain the difference. After my ride, I practiced my dismounts for a while. I was nailing them almost from the beginning. What the heck? Why can't I do it during the race? Stage fright?

Then I remembered Anne telling me to practice along the trail, just pick a place to dismount every so often. So, I did another partial loop of the trail, practicing my dismounts in a more real-life situation. I was a little more hesitant because I was going faster, it wasn't an open area and the ground was a little less flat, but by the time I finished, I was getting it. I actually think I'm ready for barriers now!

My plan is to go out again tonight and practice more. Then I'll try to get to Kisscross early enough on Saturday that I have time to not only warm up, but to actually practice my dismounts with barriers. I'm beginning to think I'll actually get the hang of this after all.