Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Junk" Miles or Time to See What I'd Have Otherwise Missed

Lately, I have been hearing a lot about this concept in training where people refer to miles ridden without a specific purpose for any particular ride to be classed as "junk" miles. As far as I can tell, you should have specific goals that you focus on for each ride, whether it's working on climbing, speed, intervals, whatever.

Personally, I think the concept is hogwash and just some elitist nonsense that people who can afford to pay for coaches like to throw around to justify why they are paying someone to tell them what to do each and every time they go out to ride a bike. Hogwash I tell ya.

For instance, today I went out for a ride. I knew I wanted to ride "long", but that's all I knew.  Unfortunately, with the weather pattern we've had lately, one of our major connector trails that allows us to link all our trails was closed due to excessive moisture and mud. So that meant that now the select trails that were open required a drive from one area to another to link up trails rather than just riding in between them. I planned to ride the first trail, and then drive to the 2nd trail with hopes of riding that one as well as the linkable 3rd. By the time I finished 2 laps at trail #1, it was lunch time. I ate some food and decided that rather than waste the gas to ride the other trails which total about 15 miles and are decidedly flat, I would go back into trail #1 which offers much more climbing and do three more laps there to make up for the miles.

Yes, my plan changed. The horror.
The bottle tree
Who Goes There?
But, because of that change, I got to see some really cool stuff that I wouldn't have otherwise seen. On this trail that I have ridden so many times before, I noticed the "bottle" tree. How I have missed seeing it every single other time I have ridden it is a mystery to me, but today I saw it.  And it was cool. I also stopped to talk to a family I know who rides together and while we were yapping, I saw a squirrel scurry up a tree, squeeze himself into what I can only guess was a woodpecker's hole and then turn around and put his little face in the hole to keep an eye on us. A cuteness that I can't put into words, but trust me when I say it was adorable. Soon after, I saw a hawk sit in a tree eating the rat he just caught. Yes, I know, not AS cute, but sometimes nature is cruel and hawks have to eat too.

Then, I came upon a purple poodle (okay he was faded a bit so now was more lavender). For this one I had to stop to ask and verify I hadn't lost it. I removed my sunglasses thinking maybe I was delirious for having seen a purple poodle. But, no, sure enough the owner confirmed what my eyes were seeing. He was indeed dyed purple for a commercial he was starring in about mattresses. Yeah, I didn't get it either so I smiled and carried on. Poor dog.
Not him, but very similar.

Lastly, as I was finishing up and riding back to my car, I passed the basketball courts. One skinny guy was literally walking back and forth on this big guy's back as he laid down on the hard concrete. I can only assume this was some back relief exercise and he wasn't actually beating up the bigger guy. At least I hope it was. I gave a double take and kept on riding. I mean after all, I certainly couldn't help him.

So as far as I was concerned, although I didn't go into this ride with a set plan, and then my "rough draft" changed somewhere along the way, I would hardly call the miles I completed "junk" miles. My legs are sore, my heart is content and my thoughts are clear.  All in all, I'd say that's a good ride. As far as junk miles, the only junk I see in my future is food. Now, about that Snickers.

Monday, February 20, 2012

First Winter Short Track Series Race

My Proud Surly
So this year, we have a winter short track series being held for the first time at one of our local trails. Same track each week run for 30, 45, or 60 minutes depending on your category. For the first one, it was warm and muddy having rained all night just before. The week after was bitter cold, but dry. And this week, it was cold and rainy on the day of the race and all throughout it. I decided to give it a try this week since I missed the last two. So when the the forecast showed the weather was going to be the worst it had been so far, I was a little hesitant. But, I said I was going to do it, and all the other trails would be closed, so I packed up my bike and went for it. I figured how bad could a 30 minute race be in the mud? I chose to take my single speed Surly 26 inch for two reasons. One, my geared squish was in the shop having the shock rebuilt and two, it would be a lot easier to clean after the race.

We arrived at the race and it started to pour down with cold icy rain. I ran to the car and got the only water resistant type jacket I had in there and I was glad I had something to keep me somewhat dry. It ended up acting like a billowing parachute but at least it made it a little warmer. Quite a few racers turned out for the event which goes to show you that there are a lot of hardcore individuals out here who don't ride fair weather only. I guess we are like the post office, no matter rain, snow, sleet, we're there. Competition is a great motivator.

Anyway, when I signed in, I was the only woman who showed up for beginner class. In fact, I was the only woman who signed in at all. I figured that I'd be competing against myself and was guaranteed 1st place so I assumed it would be an easy medal and worth riding in this crappy weather. I know, not the best way to win a medal, but hey a medal is a medal. Just as I lined up, I saw another woman rolling up to the start line. We quickly introduced ourselves, she told me she was primarily a runner, and hadn't raced in 20 years and off we went. I felt that I might be at a disadvantage because I was riding my single speed. However, when I checked out her bike, I realized she was rocking totally old school. She was riding an early 90's Klein bike with all original equipment including an original Paola Pezzo Italian flag saddle. If you remember who Paola Pezzo was, it's pretty cool. If not, she was known for making a huge splash as a kick-arse female mtb rider when there weren't that many in the sport. She also won the Olympic gold medal in mountain biking, when the event made its debut in the US.
Neck and Neck
So we started out and it soon became apparent that we were very close in ability. It was so great to have a real competitor out there and not just be racing against myself. For the entire race we chased each other neck and neck. Sometimes I pulled in front, other times, she took the lead. For most of the race I maintained the lead until we got to the straights where my single speed legs just did not have the ability to keep up with the higher gears she was able to use in those stretches of road.

Man this grass is tough
Last Lap
By the 6th lap, my legs were starting to get tired. I started to doubt the prudence of my choice to do a 16 mile single speed ride the day before the race.  Perhaps rest would have been the wiser choice, but the weather was too pretty to pass it up. Once she got to the straights, once again, she pulled away. Arrghh....I could not catch up, as hard as I tried. My legs were spinning like a hamster, but there was no way, I had the power left to push like that. I came in 2nd place less than a minute after her. It's hard to watch the person in front of you within sight actually about to cross the finish line, but there is nothing you can do to close the gap.

Hey it counts as Jewelry.
I got a medal!
Crossing the Finish.....2nd Place
 However, when I crossed the finish, I felt good and was pleased with my effort. The first place finisher and I shook hands and I congratulated her on a job well done. We agreed to make arrangements to ride together soon. At the awards, I proudly and perhaps a little too enthusiastically accepted my medal. But, I really, really wanted one of them. And although my medal says, 2nd place, I am just as proud as I could be if it said 1st and I won by default. I had to earn it fair and square and not just take home 1st because I was the only woman in my class who showed up. Although in these conditions that deserved it's own medal. ;-).
Now this gives me something to shoot for to try to work my way up to 1st place. There is one more race in this series next Sunday, but, I am not sure if I will do it because I have a 45 mile long endurance ride planned for Saturday which may fry my legs. But we'll see because I'd like to push myself again to see the difference in my result especially if the conditions are dry. And if the weather is good, I am sure many more women will come to race and the competition will be even stronger. That's a good thing for this sport.

Monday, February 13, 2012

2012 Bushwhack Mountain Bike Challenge....Check.

My plan was to spend the night at my brother's house so we didn't have as far to drive in the morning to get to the event. The night before the race, a cold front blew in. And some of the craziest biting wind we've experienced so far this year decided to tag along with it for the ride. I listened to the wind howl the whole day and obsessed about the next day's weather forecast. I started to read about a few race entrants announcing they were going to bail because it was just "too cold".  On top of that, my brother was telling me in typical supportive brother fashion that I was "crazy to ride in this weather" and warning me how cold it was going to feel with the wind chill. Big brothers... always offering sage advice even when no one asks for it. I dismissed his protestations and told him that it would  warm up once we got going on the ride. It always does.

I am no stranger to riding in the cold, so there is no way I'd bail on any race for that. Cold and rain, maybe, but cold and wind, not a chance.  Ideas of which clothing I should pack to wear for the day were all over the place. I didn't want to be too cold, but overheating in a race really can mess you up too. So I packed everything in my duffel bag, including 4 different weights of gloves, a wind breaker, a polar fleece vest, several base layers, wool socks, knickers, wind proof tights and two "turtle fur" neck gaiters. Not sure why I packed two neck warmers, but for some reason I felt I needed a backup in case one of them spontaneously disintegrated in my bag ....I am sure it has been known to happen....somewhere. Not everything gets posted on the internet you know.

When I woke up, I checked the weather one last time before I got dressed. I decided to wear all the layers I'd brought and choose a jacket when I arrived there. The problem with getting dressed in a warm house is that quite quickly, you start second guessing your well considered choices as you are already sweating just putting on all your layers. That wavering quickly dissipated as soon as I stepped outside though.  Man, it was a cold one. About 3/4 of the way to the race, I realized I'd left my race snack back at the house. My plan was to bring a frozen Snickers and use that for fuel alongside my hard as a rock, left out in the car, and now frozen Cliff Blok gels. I was bummed. I didn't have any food now in my camelbak. The good thing about using everyday candy as your endurance race snack is that they can be picked up and replaced at just about any convenience store. We passed a gas station and my husband jumped out and came back with not one but two Snickers. (I think he secretly wanted one for himself). I was back in action.

Upon arrival at the race, it seemed like a light turnout, but in true mountain biker fashion, most racers were just fashionably late. By the time the race started, 91 of the 100 participants showed up to brave the cold miles which is a very impressive turnout. After the racer pep talk and the warning to be courteous to all trail users since it was an open course, they sent us off in the usual waves, Expert, Sport and finally Beginner. I chose Beginner so I was the last wave to start.

Pavement Slog Start
The first part of the course was a long road stretch into the single track which was nicely frozen and hard packed. The 2nd part of the course was on hard packed fire roads which seemed like a never ending series of climbs and the finish was to go back through the original single track one more time.

I had been to this place a few years back and was humbled by the "fire road" difficulty so I went in with a little more respect this time. I rushed into the single track and tried to keep my "race pace" forgetting that this was an endurance event. Not long in,  I passed a stopped racer who proclaimed he was going to quit because his hands were just too cold. About 6 miles into the course, my own gloves were warming up my hands so much and I couldn't take the sweating anymore so I removed them and rode bare-handed which generated a few raised brows. I rode the entire remainder of the race with no gloves at all and I was amazed at how that small clothing shed was enough to regulate my temperature for the whole race.

The course markings on the fire roads were just white painted arrows on the ground and easy to miss. I missed a few and had to turn around to back track my pedal strokes and get back on course. About halfway through the fire road portion, I made the mistake of looking at my odometer. Not only was I not even half way through this race, but there were no other participants in sight. Somehow, I was too slow to keep up with the front of the pack, but too fast to be with the back. I waved at all the runners/walkers I saw and just kept my head down and pedaled trying not to concentrate too much on how many miles I still had to complete. I don't like to pre-ride race courses because for me there is something cool about not knowing what is coming up around the next bend that appeals to me. If I know there is a monster climb up ahead, it is easy for that to play havoc in my head and psyche my will out. So I just kept riding and pedaling and waving at the other trail users trying to have a good time in the process. They must have thought I was crazy because it didn't occur to me until the 4th or 5th odd look I got, that I was in fact wearing a race number which clearly indicated I was in an actual race. I forgot about that. I am pretty sure racers don't use valuable energy to wave at other users in general while in an event, but that's my style. While I like to race and push myself, I don't have that killer instinct. Technically, I am racing, but I still want to have fun in the end. I always want to have a smile on my face and if it comes a time when racing and smiling can't be on the same team, then I just won't race anymore.

Water Crossing in Winter....Brrrr.
I came around a bend and I saw the water crossing I'd heard about. Brrrrr....I panicked because it was still very cold and I had many miles to go if I got soaked. I spied a lone photographer perched at the bottom and I knew that my effort would be caught on camera, so I'd better make this look good. I touched the brakes a bit to slow myself down, let them go just before I hit, and then splashed through the water with child like abandon. My shoes got drenched, my wheels got clean, but thanks to the miracle of wool, my feet barely felt the cold and my socks dried very quickly. Score one for the lambs.

Since I didn't know anything about the course as far as where we had to go and was just blindly following painted arrows, I started to get a little apprehensive when I saw riders wearing race numbers coming toward me in the opposite direction. Either I was going the wrong way or we had to double back the same way we came. I really should have paid attention to the map. Uggh, that meant we had to do the water crossing, again. I kept riding and passed a turnoff. One of the other racer women came riding toward me and shared that I just missed the turn. She proceeded to tell me that not only did she miss it too, but she had gone 10 minutes up the road past it already before she got back to me and that time lost meant that her own race was over. I could tell that she was frustrated and we rode together for a couple minutes chatting while we headed back toward the correct turn off. She said that just once she would like to do a race and not get lost and I totally understood.  I asked her if she was in the Sport class and said yes, but that she should have signed up for Beginner class. For a minute I realized that now I was actually keeping up with  someone from the Sport class and would have someone to ride with to the end. Well, that didn't last long. As soon as the climb started again, she pulled away from me like she had an engine on her bike. And then she was gone. Beginner class, my arse.
Stayin' Strong
Once I finished the fire road portion, I headed back into the single track. I realized that I hadn't stopped even once to eat anything. I was still carrying all my snacks in my pack. Somehow, incredibly, I hadn't bonked yet. I was not sure if so late in the game whether taking the time to eat something would actually outweigh the time lost from stopping to eat the snack. I decided to carry on and skip the food. Water had gotten me this far and it would have to do. By the time we got back to the trail for round two, the temperature had warmed up enough to start thawing out the trail. Now many of the really fast spots had turned to slick peanut butter. Luckily, for me, I didn't have enough energy to fly through the trails as fast as the first time, so I was perfectly happy riding slowly and cautiously. At this point, finishing was my only goal.

I am almost done.
Once I exited the single track for the last time, the race volunteers told me to ride the road down to the original start for the finish line. I spied my husband up ahead in the woods with his camera and gave him a big wave. I was so excited to see him because I knew I must be close to the end. I was almost done.

I was somewhat delirious and could not remember where the heck I started the race though. I started riding down the road which was seeming only vaguely familiar to me. I was convinced that I was going the wrong way again and must have missed yet another turn. I just wanted this race to end already and now hunger was creeping into my thoughts. So instead of just going with the simple instruction they gave me upon exiting the single track, I over thought it. I  kept turning into every parking lot I came to only to have to u-turn out of it and keep going to the next one. I started to get frustrated and then started furiously pedaling down the road figuring it had to be the one place I didn't think to go first.

Please tell me this is the Finish Line.
Finally, I saw the race organizers and the clip boards. I was home free. I passed through the little crowd who braved the cold and cheered my finish as I crossed the line. It literally was a white line painted in the parking lot. Exactly 3.5 hours later from when I started, my race was over. I ended up with 35 miles total, a mile more than the official course, which I can only attribute to my poor navigational skills. I felt good despite being cold and was still able to finish with a huge smile on my face. I got to the car and started layering on any remaining additional clothing I brought because I was now feeling the cold. I ripped into that Snickers bar I'd been towing around for 35 miles. Best......Snickers......Ever.  After the race we all headed over for some free grub at a local sport's bar for some pasta and conversation. All and all a great day, a great course and a great experience for me. It definitely highlighted how much work I need to do for the Fool's Gold. For the first time, I pushed myself to a) 3.5 hours of non stop riding with no breaks and b) using only the fuel I had for breakfast to get me through the event. So now,  if I ever find myself forgetting food, I am confident I can get through my ride without it for at least 3.5 hours of exertion. That's good to know. Go Kashi Cinnamon Harvest!!

A big thank you to those wonderful volunteers who donated their time to stand in the cold to help the racers who chose to race in these conditions. I am sure there are many things that they'd rather do on a freezing cold Sunday morning.  And, of course, a huge thank you to my loving husband who always supports my own racing endeavors, keeps my bike running smoothly, and takes his own time out to photograph these events for either myself and/or the other racers. I couldn't do it without him.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rest. It's What the Cool Kids Must be Doing.

Lately, I have been keeping a log of my riding so I can look back and get an idea of what workouts I can pinpoint as riding help vs. riding harm. I usually just ride when I feel like it , but never try to make any sense of it all because I want to keep it fun. After all, it's bike riding, not work. However, since I have several races lined up this year, I thought I should at least try to keep track of what I am doing and when to see how it affects my fitness. Good grief this is all starting to sound very official now that I type it out. Oh no!! I am becoming one of  "Them"?

Anyhow, two weeks ago I did an endurance ride. I'll call it ride "A". I felt strong and kept a very high average pace with the group. A week later, I did the same route. Again, I felt strong, and kept my average not quite as high, but finished with energy to spare at the end as opposed to panting like a dog. Something I didn't experience the week before on the higher average pace.

Yesterday I repeated that same ride and I felt tired, weak and lethargic. My legs felt like lead and my average was creeping lower and lower as the ride continued. Before I even was halfway through, I was feeling so exhausted that it felt I had done twice as many miles than I actually had. I was confused. What had changed from one week to the next? Why wouldn't I be getting stronger on the same ride I'd done 3 times now?

So I went to my ride log to see if I could glean some perspective. And that's when I discovered the real importance of rest between rides. My fastest pace was with the week with the most rest in between rides. My most energetic feeling at the end of  a ride was the week where I did the most varied riding on varied types of bikes/terrain, (fire road, pavement, mtb hill climb repeats). My worst week so far, (a/k/a yesterday) was with back to back days of riding the same terrain. It was very enlightening to see this and gave me a new appreciation for "rest" days. Sure I've heard of them before, but who actually rests? If the weather is good, I want to be outside riding my bike. Rest is for the rainy days isn't it?

This Sunday is my first 30+ mile endurance "race" of the season and I want my legs well rested but, prepared. It is expected to be about 22 degrees and with the wind chill will feel like 17. I want to make sure dressing warm enough is my only concerning variable and not dead legs.

So for today and tomorrow, I have vowed to do no riding. Not a stitch. I can't tell you how hard this is. The weather is great, albeit cold and the trails are dry and frozen. I even have to walk past my bike trainer to get to my car. It kills me to miss even a day of riding especially in exchange for "rest". However, I know in the long run (Sunday), this will benefit me. But, I gotta admit it. Right now REST just feels like a four letter word to me and I am sure my bikes aren't too happy about my choice either. *Sigh*

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2012 Race Aspirations

I have come to a consensus on what my plans are for racing this year. I have never really put together a plan of sorts for mtb racing so the fact that I even have a "plan" is something new. Usually, I like to just play things by ear.

And part of me thinks I am only making this blog post to hold myself accountable.
I have read and heard often that if you think you want something, and you put it in writing that you are more likely to do it. Plus I like lists. I like making them. And then crossing things off when I complete them. It's a quirky thing. Don't ask me why, it just makes me feel good. So, sue me.
Okay, that last dare was a joke. Don't really sue me. Lawyers are pricey and apparently so are these race entry fees. 

So here goes....drum roll please.

2/12/12 Bushwhack Mountain Bike Race
4/07/12 6 Hours of Warrior Creek Duo
5/27/12 24 Hrs of Burn (5 person team) 
6/06/12 Triad MTB Training Series @ Country Pk.*
6/20/12 Triad MTB Training Series @ Bur-Mil *
7/08/12  4 Hours of Run From the Cops 
9/8/12 Fool's Gold (not the 100, the 50... I ain't no fool)
10/20/12 Mud Bug Obstacle Run (somethin' new to try just because).

Okay so that really didn't deserve a drum roll per se. Maybe a dull pencil tapped upon a table a few dozen times, but it's my list. And I hope to accomplish these "feats" and be able to blog about my experiences so some day when I am old and forgetful, I can look back and say, "oh yeah"...I remember when.  Come to think of it, I am pretty forgetful now, so it's a good thing I typed those out so I remember to show up for them. ;-)

I may enter those shorter XC races and the others I've placed asterisks on throughout the year, but for those I will just  take them as they come and decide then depending on work schedule. I don't want to plan everything so that will be my "spontaneous" stuff. I do prefer long mileage races, but I think that some of the shorter ones can offer benefits too. Like, teach me how to run with the pack at full speed out of the gate. Something I have never been good at, but I notice it is a common theme among guy rides. There are quite a few local-ish races this year in my area, so it would make it easy to participate. Not easy to finish, but at least easy to show up for and that's a  good start.

See you on the starting lines. And fingers crossed, eventually at the finish lines as well. :-)