Thursday, May 31, 2012

Girl Power?

Now that I am gaining some momentum in the midst of my endurance block (I've ridden 7+ hrs this week), work is taking me to San Francisco for a few days. I hope to find a stationary bike in the hotel to keep up, but I'm guessing this week is shot. This trip is precluding me from riding in a classic all-women ride north of Salt Lake, Little Red Riding Hood. It would be good to get a century under my belt.

Which brings me to the topic of all-women rides... they are cropping up all over the place. Part of me thinks it's great; a venue for all types of women riders to gather in a non-stressful environment to cycle together. I get that many women are intimidated to participate in cycling events with men, who tend to be more competitive and may be intimidating. These all-female events draw hundreds of riders, and it's great to see the diversity; young, old, skinny, fat, tall, short, etc. Although it sounds weird, it reminds me of the time I went to see the Vagina Monologues. I was incredibly moved by the beauty of women of all types. It was wonderful to see and accept that women of all shapes and sizes are lovely. Events like Little Red promote the idea that you don't need to be an Amazon woman to enjoy a cycling challenge.

BUT... over the years, Little Red has also been extremely disenchanting, as I have watched clueless riders take up an entire lane, mindlessly chattering to each other, while frustrated drivers wait to get around them. Efforts to educate these cyclists on rules of the road have been mostly ineffective; it's still a melee of swerving, nervous braking, and road clog... and every year there are threats of revoking the event license because of unnecessary crashes and traffic interference.

As I browsed the Little Red blog last week, I realized that the educational message this time was directed to riders like me! The site preached that Little Red was not an event designed to provide opportunities to achieve your fastest century time. Translated: competent female riders need not apply. Because efforts to educate novices on riding etiquette have failed, the strategy now is to rein in faster riders who possess the ability to use a pack to move along quickly.

It gets even better (or worse, depending on your perspective). Little Red is a venue to promote other all-female rides, like Pamper Fest, in which you can get your nails done and have a massage too, all in a sea of pink fluff. (maybe they should consider liposuction and face-lifts as well). The message I'm getting is: women can't really ride, and they shouldn't lose sight of their real purpose... to look good. So, the heavyish granola woman on the mountain bike should consider a manicure to improve herself.

It's not for me! I'm not young anymore; I'm riddled with wrinkles, gray hairs, and mysterious brown spots. I can ride a bike, and I'm getting better every year, even at this late date. It would be great to encourage women to focus on what they've accomplished and where they are headed, rather than this constant message to stay looking young. Let's raise the bar and focus on substance and celebrate the many ways women are great!

I'm disappointed that I don't seem to fit in the all-women venues or the "real" cycling races. I'm somewhere between and spend most of my time cycling alone, but I still experience the joy of almost flying during an acceleration or fast descent, and I guess that's the point - to find joy. I hope that the variety of opportunities out there help others find that too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Southwest Women Rock

Iron Horse Classic

This year's Iron Horse road race, a 6000 ft climb from Durango to Silverton, was epic! A pack of 83 women in the combined age categories 45+ and 55+ rolled out at just before 8 am. This time I wasn't too quick to judge cycling fitness based on hair grayness or other superficial observations... I knew these ladies were tough. My plan was to stick with the group for as long as possible, but if they attacked the first hill too fast I would ride my own pace, rather than blowing up. I actually had a note taped to my frame that told me how long each section of the course was, how fast I should be going, and what time I would reach each landmark. Sounds ridiculous I know, but it sets some goals, provides something to think about (other than pain), and is remarkable accurate.

The biggest challenge we faced this year was the weather. Driving into Durango on Friday evening, the sky was tinged brown with dust kicked up from strong wind and gusts of 60+ mph. Saturday began calm, but as we approached the two higher passes, wind was definitely a factor. There were moments of elation, as a powerful gust shoved me forward; other times I was pelted by pine cones or nearly stalled in the headwind.

Early in the race I identified a woman who pedaled at a steady, fast cadence that I was able to stay with. She looked to be about 30 from behind, but when I saw her from the front I realized she was one of "us", the older ladies. I later learned that she was in the 55+ group. We switched places off and on all day; she led the climbs and pulled me on the flats, and I usually slipped away on the descents. Had the wind not been so scary, I might have been able to stay ahead. As it was, my descents were tempered, as I thought about how fast I wanted to hit the pavement if a gust knocked me over. Luckily that didn't happen, but at one point I was pushed sideways with my wheels literally off the ground.

I managed to finish the race 10 minutes faster than last year, which was exactly my goal (I have the piece of paper that was taped to my bike to prove it!). However, I did learn how important fluid and calories are. It's not like I hadn't realized that I would need to eat and drink, but I didn't appreciate the degree of energy expenditure required for this 3+ hour event. In 3 hrs 21 min and 6000 ft, I only ate 2 energy gels and drank only 2 water bottles for a whopping consumption of about 400 calories (and my Garmin indicate a total expenditure of 1400). I should have consumed at least 900 calories and at least 3 bottles of fluid. So how do I know this was even a problem, especially since I bested last year's time? It happened at the finish, or rather just before. As I was pounding my way to the line, a girl from my group appeared out of nowhere and pulled ahead. My counter-"sprint" got me no closer to her; she was too well-rested from drafting me (excellent strategy, by the way). Anyway, in dealing with her plus another couple of citizen riders, I barely heard this guy standing in the middle of the road say "Racers, left". My mind did not comprehend who he was or what he was saying... and by the time it sank in, I was already corralled in the right side lane.... and I missed the finish! Definite brain drain... Lunch after the race was also interesting, as my friend JB and I tried to carry on a conversation, but neither of us could hang on to a thought for more than a second or two.

The brain problem was evidence of an energy shortage, but more importantly, the Garmin data shows that on the last climb my pace and heart rate kept dropping off. The inability to maintain power on each of these climbs illustrates an important deficit in my training... the lack of a deep aerobic base. Obviously, quite a few my fellow "pushing or pushed" 50ers did not have this deficit, as my result was around 23rd place, middle of the pack. In fact, quite a few of the 55+ ladies cleaned my clock. These ladies from Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico were amazing, and definitely an inspiration! So, beginning now and for all of June, I'm working backward to a base training regime... endurance block, here I come!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ready to Roll?

I wouldn't say that my preparation for the Iron Horse is ideal by any means, but there is a pattern that indicates a method to the madness. My excuse for inadequate training, which is shared by countless others, is that I don't have enough time... It's true that work has been crazy busy this month and that there have been numerous parenting responsibilities, so this excuse is credible... even to me. That is, until I met up with an old friend on a ride the other day, and she invited me to do hill work with her friend on Tuesday morning at 5:45. The fact that I have rarely considered dragging myself out of bed early (when there are never any schedule conflicts) demonstrates that time is not necessarily the problem; it is committment. At this point, I am unable/ unwilling to interupt my morning sleep to do the work necessary to really progress. At least I am considering the possibility now, and I might change my ways!

For now, I am pursuing the "here and there" training plan, getting 2-3 week-day rides and 1 longer week-end ride. In the 4 weeks leading up to the Iron Horse, I noticed my so-called "plan" actually looks pretty good, and I have more confidence now that I've analyzed my numbers. This week (week 4 of the training cycle) is my taper week. So far, I rode 18 miles and did 3 5-min intervals at a heart rate at the edge of my sustainable rate. These intervals will improve my ability to cope with sudden pace increases, like when the ladies dropped me last year. The plan is to do this type of work again today, and then do an easy ride on Friday before the race, just to keep the legs loose.

The stunning realization I had when looking over my Garmin data was that weeks 1-3 were nicely periodized. This essentially means that week by week I increased my training load. The increase can be via mileage, ride duration, elevation climbed, etc. To illustrate, here are my numbers (keep in mind that I put less effort into this than probably any other competitor signed up for the Iron Horse.. but that's another topic). Week 1 was 50 miles, 3 hr 14 min, and 3110 feet of climbing; Week 2 built up to 69 miles, 4 hr 43 min, and 6447 feet of climbing; and Week 3 was 106 miles, 8 hr 21 min, and 9049 feet of climbing. Perhaps this has something to do with my fatigue feelings last week, as this is a rather steep progression (happens when you take two weeks off to go sea kayaking). Now, it's kind of a relief to know that I am essentially finished preparing for this event; all I can do is try to keep hydrating, eat well, get plenty of rest and do 2 more rides. After the race, it will be time to start another training period, and the work begins again. Maybe this time I will approach the task with a little more committment and a more concrete plan; then again, who knows!

For now, I'm signing off, as I realized I could look at my Garmin data from last year's Iron Horse... I'm going to see what pace worked, what heart rates were achieved, and where the major climbs are. I know less about mental preparation, but knowing what's ahead is almost as good as complete naivete!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's Not All Fun and Games

Actually, my dad would say "It ain't all fun and games", referring to times in life when you had to do things that were, let's say, "unfun". This seems to be a time when I'm feeling this way about a lot of things... work, house/yard work, training. It's an energy low for sure, and it may have to do with listening to too much NPR, or maybe just the weather, which has been unseasonably warm. I did manage a few rides in the last week or so... climbed big mountain on Sunday, about 3300 ft, and felt pretty good. It was Tuesdays ride that about killed me. As the Iron Horse looms closer, I am starting to freak out about my preparation, as I have still not done any substantially long rides. So, on Tuesday, I determined I would go as long as possible in the time that I had (perhaps this is a source of gloominess, because I never seem to have more than 2 hrs in a row to complete anything). The day was hot and windy, and as I started out with my tunes, I soon realized that I had only one song in my low-tech ipod... . I turned back to home and re-sync-ed, and also refilled the fluids. It was hot, and I knew I was starting out a quart (or more) low.

When training time is limited, I find it difficult to spend much time spinning easy and keeping my heart rate down. I figure if I push hard when I'm able to ride, it will pay off more. But riding hard all of the time takes a toll, both mentally and physically. Add heat, and the experience is even more difficult for me. For these reasons, I have developed a training "framework" to not allow quitting or turning around unless some sort of landmark or goal is attained. I decided that I had to make it to the top of a hill that was about 15 miles away from home. As my rides progress, I set new goals along the way, so realizing I would easily attain the first goal, I decided to ride out to 23 miles in order to achieve a round trip of at least 40 miles (the math doesn't seem to make sense, but I had the little ipod loop at the start). The new goal put me into Little Cottonwood Canyon, one of my nemesis(es)/ nemeses? because of its unrelenting grade. Once in the canyon, another goal revision... go 2 miles (to achieve 23) OR until 4:00 pm (because I had to get home in time to fix dinner), whichever came first. Turns out, they occured simultaneously! (Not a big deal really, but it's amazing what you find interesting when you are trying to occupy your mind). Descending, as always, was a blast until I began to feel the awful, extremely painful foot burning.

Perhaps some of you skiers have experienced the terrible foot burning that happens when suddenly your numb feet become engorged with blood and come close to exploding. I get this feeling on my bike quite a bit, perhaps the worst case being when I did my first LOTOJA using my mountain bike pedals and too-small mountain bike shoes. Frequently, I had to stop, jump off the bike and lie down on my back with my feet in the air. Having pedals and shoes that distribute the force on the foot helps quite a bit, but when it is hot and the ride is longer, I still experience this excruciating pain. For me, it is worse than childbirth; at least contractions don't last that long... the foot burn is unrelenting. The best relief is elevating the feet, as the problem is reactive hyperemia or too much blood flow. Hopping off the bike to raise your feet is not an effective racing strategy, so I only use this option in desperate situations. Another partially useful solution is to wiggle and contract the toes and feet in order to push blood out. Last year, during LOTOJA (which was unusually hot) I tried pouring water over my feet, to get some vasoconstriction; cool relief! (for about 10 seconds). Also, shoes full of water probably adds more weight than I would like to think about. Probably the best solution is getting your mind off the pain. I have no idea how to do this, but it has worked for me, as I have had moments of awareness when I thought, "Hey, my feet don't hurt anymore" ... and then the pain returns! So, however I came to stop thinking about the pain worked!

To make a long story short, I completed my 40 miles on Tuesday, with a lot of suffering. I figure if I suffer now, maybe I won't suffer so much later. My weight the next morning was still about 3.5 lbs lower than usual, so I know that dehydration played a major role in the discomfort... working on trying to keep hydrated. It's essential to replenish fluids and calories in the first few hours after a ride, but when you feel awful, it's not always easy. So, as I tell my daughter, "keep moving in the right direction". I'll keep plugging away at work, riding, and all the rest. I know better days are ahead!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Embrace Your Inner Minivan

... A white minivan, and not even a fancy one. Ours was a manual 5-speed with windows that you actually had to roll up and down with a crank. So what does this have to do with cycling? or getting older? Whenever I drove that minivan, no matter how fast I was travelling, everyone HAD to get ahead of me. That vehicle exuded uncoolness, so anyone nearby had to get away. Again, link to cycling?

Some days out riding, I have to accept that I am that white minivan. No matter how great my kit looks, I'm still an older female; that is more than enough reason for everyone else (at least those of the male persuasion) to pass me, no matter how much energy it burns. As I was riding up the canyon today, three guys glided past me in pretty close succession. They weren't that young, and their legs definitely weren't shaved. (Technically, I should be able to stay ahead of this class of rider). My humiliation was amplified a few minutes later when another rider FLEW by as if I was standing still. (I did experience some satisfaction as I watched this guy overtake those other three). 

After a couple of minutes, it was clear that I was riding at the same pace as the third guy in the bunch; he just passed because of my uncoolness factor. I slowly crept up to his wheel, but as soon as he realized I was there, he took off again. I gave up and just maintained my pace to the top, passing a few folks on the way; a tandem (usually can pass on a steep incline) and a mountain biker (he may have a blog about pushing 70... not sure).

This is where all my theoretical riding hierarchy (nonsense) fell apart... Because of my alpine skiing background, I am usually pretty competent on descents, especially this one since I ride it regularly. But guess who passes me??? The old guy on the mountain bike! He pulls me halfway down the canyon, and I stay behind because I'm not sure I could go much faster! Finally, he briefly stretches his hip flexors and I pull ahead and hammer as hard as I can, but after about a mile, he's back again. I'm going to have to re-evaluate all of my riding stereotypes... Perhaps this fellow was just an anomaly.

All in all, great ride!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Prep Time!


So, am I the last to know that it's already May?? It just dawned on me that the Iron Horse (a 47 mile, 6650 ascent to 10,867 feet) is only 3 weeks away! I find myself in a dilemma; is it time to train or taper? This is particularly difficult because the training has been lacking. I did ride Big Mountain on Sunday, a 3389 ft climb over 33 miles (round trip) that took about 2 hrs 25 min. At least I am familiar with what climbing feels like. With only two week-ends left before the race, I am going to consult Chris Carmichael's "Time-Crunched Cyclist" in a desperate attempt to prepare. The plans that are outlined in this book oriented toward busy cyclists are 12 weeks long and assume the rider has some base training. Sporadic rides interupted by a 2-week sea-kayaking vacation hardly resembles base training, but it is what it is. My strategy for the next 2 weeks will be to push hard on shorter rides during the week (when work does not permit longer rides), taking advantage of natural terrain for intervals. The canyon in my back yard is great for this, as it has both gradual and steep sections. I also hammer all the way down the sometimes rolling terrain. For the next two week-ends, I'm going to ride longer, hopefully 2+ hrs Saturdays and Sundays. This should help me get used to saddle time, as last year the Iron Horse took me about 3.5 hrs. I can use the last 5 week-days preceding the race to take it a little easier, just riding to stay loose. This is by no means an ideal training plan, but it's all that I can do at this late date. From a broader perspective, this should be fine, as my REAL goal for this year is to get a personal best at LOTOJA in September.


I promised I would get back to you on the topic of gauging progress by comparing yourself to others. I generally compete against myself, but it is fun to race against unsuspecting cyclist that just happen by. Reflecting on my performance, I realized I am like a wolf... preying upon the sick, the old, and the young. Translation: If you are a sick cyclist, I probably can beat you. (Usually, I don't see any sick cyclists... or at least I can't tell). If you are very young.... like less than 10 years old, I probably can pass you going up the canyon also, especially if you are wearing running shoes and a cotton t-shirt. Likewise, if your hair on your head (and legs) is really gray, I might pass you also. Very wolf-like, don't you think? (It should also be noted that I usually pass people cycling in boots or black work socks or on mountain bikes) .... usually. It's not much, but it's something!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Roles and Goals


It seems like when we get older, opportunities decrease. Over time, our choices create obligations that force us into roles that demand time and energy and don't allow us to pursue other interests. For example, when my husband and I chose to have a family, we gave up a lot of the activities that we used to do all of the time, like white-water kayaking, back country skiing, etc. Of course, we replaced those pursuits with equally or more rewarding activities that focused on our kids. The same is true with education and career... the further you go in one direction, the less likely you will be able to switch paths. I guess getting older has led me to reflect on these choices I've made.

When I was young, I thought I could do anything. My grandma thought I was so beautiful that I could become Miss America. I actually toyed with the idea for a while, as I had so many talents (see illustration). With my hair of spun gold and the amazing talents of skiing and saxophone playing, I was pretty sure I could place pretty high in the Miss America contest! The judges would be in awe of the fine carved turns I made while playing a jaunty tune on the sax!
Since there is no actual photo of my amazing talent, I've provided an artist's rendition of what it might have looked like.
The confidence of youth was also evident in my dreams of being an olympian in both the summer and winter olympics. I thought I could ski race for the winter olympics and for summer, it was a toss up between the hurdles or swimming. (Never mind that I never actually competed in track or swimming competitions, except for one hurdles race in 5th grade in which I creamed the competition and cleared all the hurdles by more the a foot! ... and I lived on a lake and swam quite a bit).

Fast forward to today, and my goals are a little more realistic. I just want to make a video that goes viral and be on the Today Show. More on that later....


Since my goal for turning 50 is to be in the best shape ever, my daughter thought I should provide some cool fitness tips for people that might have similar goals. She thinks I should post things like, "Park your car far away from the entrance to the grocery store so you walk a little more each time you go". So, consider that posted.

I'd prefer to talk about more esoteric topics like "exercise urticaria" and "reactive hyperemia" because they relate to cycling, and it's likely that no one has mentioned these before. Maybe I'll do that one of these days!

So, my cycling training has begun, and I actually rode twice last week for a whopping total of 50 miles. It was actually great! Although I rode alone, it was great to be outside and to enjoy the unseasonably cool weather... perfect for cycling. In fact, I'm headed out today to attempt a longer ride to prepare for the Iron Horse later this month. Last year was my first Iron Horse, which is about a 50 mile climb from Durango to Silverton. I must still have a little of that child in me, because as I looked at my competetition at the start (a group of women who looked kind of old and not that fit) I figured I could take them all for the win. That "child" is an idiot, because at the first real incline, those women kicked my butt, and I only managed to catch a few by the end. It was at that point that I realized that I too look (am) kind of old and not that fit. So this year, I'm hoping that actual training might have an effect!



Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New Season

Sadly, this is the year I am going to turn 50. Perhaps it is not sad, but it is inevitable and in order to better cope with this reality, I decided in January to get into the best shape of my life to soften the blow. Like many resolutions, I immediately took no action, as there was no real plan to guide me. Knowing that fear is a powerful motivator, I signed up for a single-day bike race that crosses from Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming (LOTOJA) in a single day... and I'm in. So, now that it is May, I'm seriously thinking about increasing my training on the bike. After a recent 2-week sea-kayaing trip in Baja, my arms are much stronger, my weight is slightly lower, and my legs are weak. It's a start at least, and as I say to my 18 year-old daughter, "just keep moving in the right direction."

The purpose of this blog is to document the creative (and sometimes bizarre) thoughts I have while riding. For example, yesterday, as I pedaled up the 9 mile canyon near my home, I came upon a young male rider (unshaven legs). Usually I have no problem slipping past males with unshaven legs, but the youthfullness of this rider must have offset that rule. Plus the fact that no young male wants to get passed by an old woman. We traded the lead as we progressed to the summit... I just didn't have any legs on the steeper sections.
Next time, more on the governing "rules" regarding riders I can easily pass contrasted with those that fly by like I'm standing still...