Tuesday, July 26, 2011

being a good teammate

My teammates have saved my butt before. On Sunday at the Michaux Curse of Dark Hollow, I think I got to be a good teammate.  Gave a tube to a friend before the race, loaned a heart rate strap to Bernie (who'd go on to score 3rd in the Master's category).  These things should always come in threes.

My goals for the race were simple.  40 miles.  Make the time cut-off and finish.  Don't go out as hard as I normally do.  I told myself I wasn't going to let my heart rate get above 190 in the first 40 minutes.  For that last one - I succeeded for all but about 30 seconds of a tough climb that I spent a fair bit of off my bike.
Photo: Ralph Brandt
I started by riding poorly in some rock gardens and getting a little mopey that I was probably dead last.  Then I remembered that I wasn't going out too hard, and I passed a couple of guys who'd flatted, so I wasn't dead last anymore (and really, I never was).  By about 5 miles in, I had my rock garden issues worked out and was riding pretty well.  Descending smart.  I came down a tough section near the lake and came up on my teammate Jen.  She's been working her tail off and racing fast, and this was her first attempt at the 40 at Michaux.  We rode together through the tight, twisty singletrack along the lake.  I only hit a few trees with my bars and then we popped out onto a fire road at the first aid station but didn't stop.

A long fire road climb followed.  I heard my bike making some noise.  It sounded similar to some weird brake noises before I caught Jen.  Hmmm... It was getting worse.  We pulled off at the top of a roller, checked my headset, skewer, brake pads. Nope, nope, nope.  The rotor was loose?!  I pulled the wheel off, realized it was going to take a few to get this fixed if I could at all, and sent Jen on - no need to slow her down further seeing as she was nice enough to stop in the first place.

The lock ring on the Shimano adapter on the rotor had worked itself loose.  I hand tightened it, discovered that my duct tape wasn't sticky enough to help anymore, and put the wheel back on.  Grr.  Back up the road.  Still making noise.  Getting worse.  I stopped again, this time using my tool to get the ring a little tighter, but not tight enough.  It was making noise again within a mile.  I was at about mile 12 of a 40 mile race.  I figured this was enough of a setback that I'd miss the 2pm cutoff at mile 32.  Especially if I had to keep stopping.

I thought through the consequences of riding with it that way.  Dirt in the hub assembly.  Possibly a bent rotor.  But the wheel was spinning true and the brake wasn't rubbing.  I kept going.  Until the noise was so persistent on a gentle rocky downhill that I stopped to see the ring was entirely off, spinning around the skewer.  I took the wheel off again, rethreaded it and tightened it by hand.  For some reason, it worked.  I suspect that dirt had worked its way in there and added a little friction to keep it from loosening.

I kept riding.  Refilled my camelback at mile 20, ate a twizzler, and rolled upwards again.  Honestly, I don't remember much of the middle section of the race as very remarkable.  I enjoyed the spring trails more, except the last 10 miles, of course.  I was riding pretty consistently.  Oh, there was that really horrendous hike-a-bike section, though.  Frickin' steep, loose dirt and rocks.  Not easy hiking, let alone with a bike in tow.  A couple of awesomely long downhills.

About 29 miles in (I'm guessing, my cadence sensor was mistaken about the distance... again), I came up on Jen.  I wasn't thrilled to see her - she should be at least 10 minutes ahead of me after my mechanical issues.  But she was cramping.  I told her to get on my wheel and we'd go.  Up. Up. Up.  To the last aid station.  I figured we were going to miss the cutoff.  But my little disagreement with the Garmin meant that we had fewer miles to go than I knew.  We celebrated with some tasty snickers bars, fresh water, and a few miles of fire road.
Jen the cramp fighter.  Photo: Ralph Brandt

Jen was still cramping.  I pulled us down the fire road into the singletrack.  We traded places a couple of times, but were working together.  I was pretty certain that the woman ahead of us was out of reach and felt good but not strong enough that I was going to attack my own teammate to find out.  Plus, Jen was in rough shape.  The cramps were moving around - she was hanging in there but wasn't very talkative.  I waited for a minute at the top of a powerline climb/hike.  She waited for a minute when I stopped to put a couple turns on the rotor lock ring.  When we got to the finish, I told her we had to finish strong.  I nearly puked for the effort, even though I don't think either of us went all out to sprint each other at the end of 40 miles in the woods.  Officially, we finished 4th and 5th, 1 second apart.  I'm not telling you in which order.  Because the thing is, it simply doesn't matter.  We both finished.  In the top 5.

It was a good day in the woods.  Despite eating less than I should have and probably not going as hard as I could have, I maintained a pretty steady effort all day, handled my bike well, rode smart, and dealt with the mental challenge of thinking I was going to miss the cutoff due to a mechanical (and the fact that we actually didn't start until 9:20, gotta love Michaux!).  My body was trustworthy.  No revolts, even though it was humid and warm.  Dusty rocky goodness.
I even managed to eat afterwards! Photo: Ralph Brandt

getting it back

In June, I was sort of to rather sick for nearly 3 weeks.  For three days at the beginning, I just laid on the couch or stared at the wall.  Coach said I couldn't ride until I could walk 15 minutes.  Lyme test came back negative, after they lost it once.  Who knows what I had, but I was struggling to get 1500 calories a day during a time in the year where normally I'm struggling not to inhale everything I see.  I lost 10 pounds in two weeks.  I DNF'd from two races in one weekend.  I didn't get stronger. 

I'm keeping my weight down (sometimes, you should look a gift horse in the mouth!) because it feels good.  But getting my legs back took longer than I expected and I was pissed about it.  Just about two weeks ago, I started to feel pep in my step again.  Two weeks ago we said goodbye to my dog, sending him to puppy heaven if there is such a place and if there isn't, letting him rest forever on a farm in Pennsylvania without the pain of a huge tumor in his head.

Sunday, we raced at Michaux.  That race report will come.  Soon.

In the meantime, here's what I've learned lately.  My emotional well-being directly impacts my marriage and my training.  Whew, there, I said it.  Doesn't matter how tough I was prettending to be.  I think I was really frustrated about the setback in training from being sick and even more overwhelmed dealing with a dying pet.  I took it out on my husband, my coach, my other dog, perhaps most of all, myself.  Some days, I took it out on the bike and got good training in.  Other days, I wound up sitting in the grass on the side of the road, crying about not wanting to ride.  One day, I nearly did that mountain biking even though I was with good friends at one of my favorite places to ride.

I got some of it back at Fair Hill.  Had a good day on the bike where my body didn't revolt.  Got a bit of confidence back.  I've had a few great days on the bike plus a few really crappy ones thrown in since then. 

I don't quite have my edge back for racing.  The "killer instinct".  The feeling of always being chased and chasing.  But I'm getting there.  I trust my body again.  I'm starting to trust my head.  The rest will come.  Which is especially good because cross season is approaching quickly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

a note to my dog

Dear Gidders,

This is, I think, my farewell note to you.  It's probably weird to write a note to my dog, but sometimes I think you're smart enough that you'd understand half the words here if I read it out loud.

Seven years ago, when we went back to the dog adopt-a-thon after not finding you the first time, I think Shea was rolling his eyes.  Allie was a crazy dog, and we (or was it just me?) were hoping a playmate might settle her.  You tumbled out of the cage into Shea's lap - sweet eyes just wanting cuddles and love, something you'd not had much of in your first year of life.  You and Allie were wrestling before we were finished with the paperwork.  Turns out, this was a special relationship you'd have with her.  We already knew she didn't play nice with many other dogs.  You didn't play at all.  Except with Allie.  It was regular party entertainment to watch you two "kids" wrestle.  Amazingly, I think in 7+ years we only had one wrestling-related trip to the vet - an eye scratch. 

You stole all the toys and kept them in your bed, rustled in bike bags to rescue powdered drink mixes that needed to be eaten, chewed through jersey pockets for gu wrappers and always left Allie the beef jerky.  Walked in a straight line on the sidewalk, never veering.  Chased the frisbee until your tongue was twice as long as your snout. And all the pet-sitters we ever had told me that you followed the rules they didn't know about.  Sit at the corner. Sit to get your food.  Oh, wait, except the one about not getting on the couch.

Do you remember your first onions?  I was making soup in the Salt Lake kitchen, where the walk from the countertop to the stove was more than 2 steps.  Handful of onions went crashing to the floor.  I kept going, threw the rest in the pot.  The rest were gone when I turned around.  You were a weird dog.  Onions?  Raw garlic?  We even tried hot sauce to keep you from eating something off the table.  I spilled some on the floor in the process. You licked it up and begged for more.

What about the mushrooms?  I think we left a gate open and went to Home Depot.  Allie was behind the picket fence when we got home - you were sitting nicely in the neighbor's yard.  An hour later, you were puking.  Up came something that resembled chicken.  Some excellent detective work by Shea revealed you'd mowed down a patch of wild mushrooms next door.  And I mean mowed.  We only figured out what you'd eaten because you'd left a single stem under a rock.

You were always the one I could take anywhere.  A toddler, tugging on your leash insistently, while you dozed at the farmer's market.  You rolled your eyes and didn't budge.  Tied in the back of the car at many a 'cross race.  Running.  Okay, walking while I "ran".  Into lab when I was a grad student. To mom's, where the doors were more interesting than any of the herdable animals.  Where you helped during strawberry picking by catching every soft one we threw in your direction. Of course, the single best place to be was being petted by anyone, while looking at me.

But sometimes, your timidness came out.  The Steelers parties in Salt Lake... Allie would play with the big dogs.  You'd hide under my legs until all of the sudden, something good or bad happened in the game and that wasn't a safe place to be any more...  Remember our first hike together?  Shea had to carry you across a little stream with a log bridge.  You were so scared.  But then you learned.  Followed the trail without fail.  Curled up in the tent vestibule, trembling through a thunderstorm.  Carried the pack when Allie was too tired, having been kept up all night by a talkative chipmunk.  Discovered the thrill of chasing a squirrel. Trundled up and down the trails in Bountiful, Park City and Moab while I rode, staying behind my wheel on the downhills and pulling me up the climbs.  Listened obediently when we saw hundreds of sheep, a few sheepdogs and other border collies, and, oh yeah, the herders with guns on their horses.

We drove across the country together, just you and I.  The only time you got to sit in the front seat.  I had too many bikes and things in the back of the Focus for you to fit.  We both made it through whole tanks of gas at a time.  I got more than a little freaked out by the weird trucker dude who thought I'd abandoned you, tied to a tree with a water bowl while I went inside for 5 minutes to use the ladies room.  I'll bet that hamburger he gave you tasted good, though.

You were a good dog.  More my dog than any I ever had as a kid.  More my dog than Shea's. Here's hoping that in puppy heaven for Gideon, you have hundreds of tomato plants to eat cherry tomatoes off the vine.  The wild mushrooms are plentiful and non-toxic.  The frisbees fly high, the grass is lush for rolling in, and the paths all go interesting places. You get cuddles all the time.  I know you... you'll miss your people there.  But we won't forget you.  I'll miss ya buddy.  You were a good dog.  Seven years was not enough.

Monday, July 11, 2011

fairly Fair Hill

My first mountain bike race, or really, bike race, was three years ago at Fair Hill.  I got 2nd in the beginner category.  It was the start of an addition to racing.  To not making decisions about which trail to pick, just which gear to be in and how hard to go.  To going so hard I forget conversations at the finish line.

Yesterday, I was putting myself back together after a stomach thing derailed my training a bit in June.  Yeah, I'm at a new race weight and trying to stay there, but I didn't get stronger to get lighter and have been feeling sluggish for the month or so since then.

Racing 50 miles.  I went out too hard.  I needed to know where my high end legs are right now more than I needed to race as consistently as I could for 50 miles.  It felt good.  Life has been complicated lately, and for the first time in a while it was just me, on the bike.  Focused.  Not thinking about my dog, my career, my recent distaste for training on the road...

Smooth, cornering well, shifting well, climbing well.  I didn't remember Fair Hill having that much climbing.  Had a little posse of guys with me for a while, then just one who made every pass with me for a long time.  It was good - he was keeping me honest without stressing me out about having someone on my wheel.

That was for about 2 hours.  Then I faded a bit.  Still felt good, but my stomach and I were not agreeing about how long I was going to spend on the bike.  I won, but it got me back after the race when there were bunches of tasty crabs sitting right in front of me to eat that looked appetizing...

Rode the hill that some others walked about 4 miles from the end of the lap.  Ran into a tree with my shoulder and handlebars.  Hit another with just my hip.  Crashed about 3 miles from the finish into a sticker bush on the side of the trail.  Drank nearly all of both my 70oz camelbacks.

Put most of what I had out there.  I saw another woman about 5 miles from the finish.  She attacked on a hill.  I didn't have much zip left in my legs and she was outta sight for most of that stretch.  In the end, she beat me by 30 seconds.  I wound up 5th.  Teammate JT took 2nd in the women's, and Bernie crushed the other singlespeeders to win.  Great to see people that are training hard getting results.

Yesterday, I was racing against the clock.  On one of my best days on the bike all year last season, I finished the 50 miler in 5:45.  Yesterday, I snuck in just under 5:30.  and it wasn't my best day on the bike.  It was solid - definitely not the worst.  I'll take it.

What a difference three years can make.  Next up: 40 miles at Michaux.  Yeah, I'm going back for more. :-)

Friday, July 1, 2011

a sad squeal

Not much action here lately.  I've only finished a race once since Michaux - a good day but not entirely remarkable at Greenbriar in the marathon event.  6 laps. 

Since then, I've been busy and was sick for about two weeks after a trip to Mexico. Bleh. I tried to race in the middle of it.  Key word - tried. Not eating for a week or so is not conducive to finishing long races. I lost all that winter weight and then some, but a lot of my spring fitness went with it.

Just over a year ago, I tangled with a wild animal and wound up in the ER - not covered with blood, but getting rabies shots.

Last night, a rogue bunny decided to tempt fate in front of my wheels.  It didn't win.  I felt the thump, then the second thump, then heard the sad little squeal of an injured animal.  I didn't look back.  Nor did I crash my bike on the road.

Natural selection.  I apply the concept intellectually all the time at work.  But sometimes it hits too close to home.