Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cycling Camp - Day 3

Sunday morning looked to have the worst potential weather. While I had grand ambitions to ride 45 miles to get to 200 for the weekend, my legs were tired, and the 155 miles I had in the saddle were tough miles. It was a little misty, but it was in the 50’s for the start so long sleeves and knee warmers, and I opted not to carry a rain jacket.

I have to admit that some complaining that morning about “some people having reasons to want to get home” started to tick me off. I mean, we left Thursday afternoon and were getting home Sunday early evening, it’s not like we had been gone for a week and ridden thousands of miles. Plus, you signed up to come, so why are you complaining when we are doing exactly what the schedule said we were going to do?

After that rant, I should say that I really liked everyone at camp. I mean, some personalities rubbed me differently than others, but there were some seriously strong roadies, and they were some great guys, even to the girl who couldn’t stay on the pace line. Even the guys who didn’t consider themselves roadies were crazy strong. They gave some great advice on how to ride well, especially on longer climbs. There was one older guy who had me laughing so hard that, at times, I thought I was going to pass out. His dead pan humor caught people off guard, but was excellent recovery after some hard riding.

Despite what was stated earlier about going to Nebraska to ride flat, there was one possibility for riding a flat ride… it involved a crushed stone trail. While some of us might not have been overly excited about riding our road bikes on this route, I was willing to risk a flat tire if it meant that there would be no 4+ mile climbs in my future.

The group started off well enough together. Quickly a pace line developed, and I found myself in a position where I couldn’t justify getting dropped off a pace line on what was suppose to be an easy day, but I swear, some guys just can’t take it easy. One guy starts going a little faster, then the next, then the next. Next thing you know, I am struggling to maintain position. Then, about a half hour into the ride, someone got a flat…and no one seemed to bring a spare, except me. I gave up my spare and CO2 cartridge to the person with the flat, but man, I didn’t like that feeling of riding without a spare, I felt like I was riding naked and for someone with severe body image issues like me, that’s a bad feeling!

Eventually, the people on road bikes split from the group with cyclocross & mountain bikes, which was fine by me as the pace was likely to reach what I considered a more reasonable pace. We rode for about another hour after the split then turned around to get back to the hotel.

Now, two people had “Johnny Clayed” it at the beginning of the ride, taking off about 20 minutes before the group. So, shortly after turning around, those gentlemen caught up to the three women riders. I was riding in the back of the group and noticed that something had fallen off someone’s bike. It looked kind large, so I opted to turn around and go back for it. I didn’t call out so the group just kept riding. I discovered that someone had lost not only his cycling glasses but his prescription glasses. The guy who happened to lose said glasses noticed I had stopped and came back to see what was wrong. When I showed him what I found, he was beyond grateful that I stopped and picked it up for him.

He and I then worked together and time trialed it back to the group. Ok, now, I had heard SO complain about this in the past and never really gave him much sympathy until I experienced it myself. Let me tell you, I was beyond pissed. On crushed stone, the riding is slightly more difficult. So, time trialing at 17 mph took a significant effort (especially after 11 hours in the saddle in the last two days). Once we got back to the group, someone felt that “oh, we must be going pretty slowly since they caught back up” and pushed the pace to 18 mph. We both immediately fell back off the line as we were exhausted by the effort we put forth to catch back up, only for them to pick up the pace by 3 mph once we got there. It’s usually customary to maintain pace, at least, after someone has bridged a gap or caught back up. If it’s a more competitive ride, then dropping the hammer and picking up pace is cruel, but smart. This ride was suppose to be EASY and a RECOVERY. While I recognize that it was unintentional, I was absolutely fuming. He wasn’t nearly as angry as I was, but I will admit that part of my anger was frustration that I got dropped by the two other women riders, but neither one of them was pulling so they were just maintaining pace, which as already established, they are both much better at than me.

After getting blown off the line, I finally said F’ it to riding a pace above what I considered easy and comfortable. I stayed with the guy for a while, but eventually, the headwind knocked him back a little. So, I found reasons to stop and kind of wait up for him, like going to the bathroom and checking to see if that noise was a flat tire.

When he caught back up with me after my last bathroom break, I asked him if I could borrow a couple of dollars. While I was the only person to have a spare, I forgot to bring a few bucks with me, and I really wanted a Diet Coke from the general store/gas station/tourist shop. Well, he didn’t have any money with him, but he convinced the lady to let me have a drink and that he would come back later to pay for it (which he did).

The total ride was only about 32 miles (my computer isn’t calibrated correctly so it was probably more like 34 miles) and 2:20 of bike time in which I didn’t eat so the fuming dropped cyclist might have been the hungry bonking cyclist.

Overall, the camp was an excellent experience. It was great riding, great to get critiques on my riding form, and great to meet some amazing people with their own set of challenges facing them. From Ironman distance races to the Leadville Mountain Bike race, we all came into camp for different reasons, but all seemed to leave with the same sense of accomplishment.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cycling Camp - Day 2

Unlike Friday, Saturday we were starting both early and driving to a different location to start. There was rain in the forecast for the afternoon, so we opted to get an early start in attempt to get the ride in before the rain. It was about a 40 minute drive to the state park where we were starting, and at 9am the 37 degree temps were cold, but like yesterday, it wasn’t that big a deal, at least not for me.

Pete promised some pretty serious climbing. To get to the park, we had driven down one of the roads we would be riding down, and it was one that made you gulp for sure. We did a nice gentle 20 minute warm-up where one of the guys who had been to the camp before pointed out a wall on the top of the mountain and informed all of us newbies that the wall was our first destination.

As we started climbing, that wall always seemed to be pretty far to my right and way way higher than me. I had heard people say just to get in a rhythm for this 3 mile (really 4 mile) climb. When we started, everyone was completely overdressed for the weather, but then to be climbing for the next 30 minutes, people were really overdressed. I went from pretty chilled to dripping with sweat in about 15 minutes, and I was probably wearing less than most. The guy ahead of me was wearing a full head Balaklava and was nearly suffocating as he tried to take it off without taking off his helmet….he eventually stopped to take it off. But, this climb called Hyner View just seemed to get harder and harder. As I got about half way up, I “was not a hero” again and dropped it into granny. It didn’t seem that hard, so I started freaking out that if I felt this bad on the first climb of the day, that it was going to be a REALLY LONG or a REALLY SHORT day on the bike. When I got to the top of this hill, I had 50 minutes in the saddle and was only 8 miles into the ride. At the top, we took some photos, and I heard some kid say, “man, I can’t believe those people rode their bikes up here.” I couldn’t help myself so I responded, “Me neither!”

I feel like there is a general divide between people who love descents and people who are scared to death of them. I am quite the latter. Riding down this hill had the supreme advantage of letting me know that the climb really was that steep, that I wasn’t that pathetic, but I was clutching my brake levers as though they were my only chance of survival. I fought off the hand cramps that came with clutching the brakes for 4 miles to make it down safely. There was one moment when I saw my life flash before my eyes, when a truck rounded a hairpin turn and had I been two feet to my left, it would have been lights out Marie! I did hear that the one guy who was pedaling?!?! the downhill did slide out, but he is good enough to right the ship.

Once at the bottom, we were going to do the significantly longer more difficult Hyner Mountain. Pete was quickly outvoted as we made our way to a route Pete hadn’t taken people on before. It was a quick 5 or 6 miles down the road and then to a 4 mile false flat and then to a 30 mile loop to close out the day with that Hyner Mountain (which was later nixed by all but 1 person). It was about here that I started getting schooled in my strengths and my weaknesses as a cyclist.

As we made our way to the false flat, I got dropped from the group. I mean, I was suffering for maybe 2 miles, but I just couldn’t hang so I dropped off. But, as usual, I quickly regrouped and once we started to approach the false flat, I caught back with the rest of the group that had had gotten dropped by the main group. While most of the others in my group turned around, I decided to finish up the false flat climb and make my way down. On the descent, I worked on trying to catch people’s wheels as they flew by, but it’s obviously a weakness I have – suffering. I just don’t do it well.

Once we got down to the bottom, we found that van with our supplies of food. I ate a PB&J sandwich, bought a Diet Pepsi and a twix at the local store, and hung out with the group as some of the people made their way up an optional 20% grade 2 mile climb. Now, there was a bit of a miscommunication as Pete’s girlfriend was nowhere to be found. Pete went from annoyed to starting to panic when word returned that she had parked and opted to hike up the 2 mile climb.

For the first time, I Johnny Clayed it. People were still hanging, and I just knew that the 30 mile loop was going to be long, with a headwind, and a struggle. Pete gave me the directions for the loop so I put them in my phone and took off. That took off should sound more like a car puttering down a dirt road, but there I was, going down the road. I made my way to the loop we were about to do and realized that I would be climbing for a long time. Since Pete had promised there would be no climbs as long as the 10 miler, I just got in a rhythm and just road. About 8 minutes into the climb, the strong group caught me. I said hi and let them go without a thought. I knew there were others behind me so I kind of had them as motivation to keep me moving up the hill. Then it kind of happened, I felt this sensation at being at one with this climb and my bike. It was this wonderful moment of kind of saying goodbye to a good friend like a college roommate. Truth be told, I have a new road bike, and this camp would be the last kind of ride my old Specialized and I are likely to do together. It was a great moment, even if it was with my inanimate bike. After this 8 mile climb, I got to the top and cruised down. People were waiting at the bottom, and I found myself having just profoundly having enjoyed the last hour on the bike.

The group pushed off for the last 25 miles together, and I was prohibited from Johnny Claying it. Pete said he would ride with me, but I was doing a fairly good job of staying with the group. Then, it was like I magically hit this 4 mile mark and fall of the line. It’s not even like I am getting dropped so much as I am falling off the line. But, per usual, I regrouped and started riding stronger than I had been riding all day. After about 20 minutes, Pete came back for me to make sure I was okay only to be shocked by how strong I was riding, pushing along going 20-22 mph on my own. The other woman in the group had fallen off the group, but when I passed her, she was still suffering from the line and couldn’t catch my wheel. As I kept riding, I felt strong and stronger. When we made the final turn for the last 10 miles, we had an awesome tailwind, and I pulled Pete, the other woman and her husband for 5 miles straight, often riding 25-26 mph. Pete pulled up to me and just said, “Wow!” He told me he was going to go back and pick up the other two who I had dropped but that I obviously didn’t need him to pull me as I was plenty strong to finish the ride.

Pete basically pulled them up so that when we made the turn back into the state park, we were all together, but I had a sense of accomplishment and a sense of understanding that I hadn’t realized before. If I want to be a roadie, I need to learn how to suffer. If I want to stay with ultracycling, I need to keep doing what I am doing: go off before you blow off, regroup, and ride strong.

Cycling Camp - Day 1

So, this post is about a week overdue so let's see what I can do.

Last weekend (the 12th through the 15th), I went to cycling camp in the Black Forest, Pennsylvania.  This camp is run by my former coach Pete Gladden.  While Pete is not my coach this year, it has nothing to do with his coaching, just my lack of a tangible goal for which I need a coach.  I think he is awesome, and he proved that over and over again during camp.

Anyway, this camp promised to provide challenging climbing with a lot of time on the bike with tired legs.  As he said, if we wanted to ride flat, we would go to Nebraska.  I was intimidated when I saw the other people who were there, and I was more intimidated when I saw the mountains that surrounded our lodge.

We stayed at a very nice little lodge called Hotel Manor in Slate Run, Pennsylvania.  Hotel Manor makes the bulk of its money from trout fishermen, but was a great base for camp.  While the rooms were much nicer than I expected, they weren't exactly what I would call "private."  Trout fishermen must have no secrets as I had an adjoining room with the only married couple in our group and while the door always stayed closed and locked, I could hear every word they said.  Fearing that I would possibly hear more than I wanted and not wanting to violate their privacy, I spent nearly every waking minute and most of my sleeping ones with headphones in my ears.  Just as an FYI, I would not book this place for a romantic getaway if you know what I mean...

But, Friday's morning we started the ride at 10AM.  While others complained it was still cold, it was sunny and over 40 degrees so I just rolled my eyes and appreciated being able to ride my bike all day rather than be in an office building staring at an excel spreadsheet. 

The ride started off well with just a beautiful gently rolling road for about 50 minutes or so.  We all stopped and stripped clothing then started back going again.  Right away, a couple of people had fallen off the back (OTB) from the main group.  Seeing the pace of the main group, I decided to drop back and save myself for the rest of the weekend.  Someone else noticed my pace and opted to join me rather than kill himself in the first "flat" 40 miles of the day's ride.  He and I were riding well together and were then joined by Pete who helped pull us for about an hour.  This second road wasn't flat, but it was considered the easy part of the ride as it had some nice short power climbs to keep us honest.  Pete would occasionally yell at me for mashing my pedals and really pushed me to use the appropriate gear.  (For non-cyclists, mashing usually involves climbing in a big gear with a low cadence, muscling your way up a hill).  Once we made the next turn, I kind of wanted to pull a Johnny Clay.  Now, Johnny Clay is just an awesome member of the Long Distance riding group that I ride with from Berea.  Typically, he is OTB, but he is proactive about it.  He almost always leaves ahead of everyone so he can get a headstart on the group then doesn't stop at the stops but rides by to let us know it's time to chase him down again.  All weekend, I wanted to be like Johnny Clay.  From this second stop, things stopped being flat.

The first climb was up to a town called Lock Haven, and while it wasn't steep, it was an annoyingly long false flat.  I wouldn't have known I was climbing except that I was going pretty slowly, but was still within eyeshot of the main group for quite a while.  Once we got to Lock Haven, I decided that a couple of hours was long enough to go without really eating, so I mauled down a PB&J sandwich.  While standing there, this local said, "oh, you are going to climb that mountain, huh?  Good luck."  Those words had a sense of foreboding as I made my turn down the road by myself.  I started the climb and started to think it wasn't so bad yet, which made me nervous because people don't wish you luck while riding up a baby hill...and then I saw it: my first switchback.  Now, I started going and just kept riding.  I was riding in some pretty easy gears and yes, even my granny gear!  I don't know what it is, but everytime I drop into granny, I have to tell myself, "don't be a hero, it's okay."  Well, granny and I were "not heros" often during the weekend...I just wanted to make it up the hill without falling over.  As I got up what I thought was about two-thirds of the way up this climb, an old lady came out to get her mail and said to me, "this is a pretty big hill, isn't it?"  To which I responded, "Yes, yes it is."  After about 5 miles, I saw Pete video taping in the middle of the road and said to him some rather infamous words from the weekend, "F*** this Pete, this hill is b***s***!"  Little did I know that Pete was not standing on the top of the hill, but no, basically the middle of a road that would proceed to ride the ridge of this particular mountain for another 5 miles.  WTF, 10 miles of climbing!  While I know that I was climbing better than some of the people to whom I caught up, I had granny to thank and a bad attitude starting to form.  When we finally got to the top, I didn't want to wait for others and started my way down the 5 mile descent.  Sounds awesome, yes, but Miss Attitude was approaching a state of bonking "Get me off the bike now!" that is usually only reserved for much more extreme circumstances.  After the descent, it was another 15 miles of rollers back to the hotel and rollers with a nice 10-15mph headwind!  While with Miss Attitude it tow, I finally made it back to the hotel and finished the ride nowing that Day 2 promised to be even tougher.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Massillon Tiger Trot 5K Race Report

Today's race was about 5 months in the making. Sometime in November, I convinced my sister to train to run a 5k. Now, my sister has a long standing philosophy of "running only when chased" so running a 5k was a big goal. We started the day after Thanksgiving with a track workout where we ran the straightaways and walked the turns. I gave my sister a few starter workouts and then a training program and off she went. I think she just needed someone to believe that she could do it. Determination is not in short supply in Rote women, which she proved to me once again today.

I picked up my sister and my mom (going along as a spectator) and then headed down to Massillon for the race. My sister had lots of little questions like "what's in a race packet?" "How do I attach a race number?" "Will there be bathrooms?" Sometimes, I think I forget how common going to a race is for me.

We got there around an hour early for the race, picked up our race numbers and shirts. We got ready for the race, and then I had my mom take a pre-race photo. I then went for about a ten minute warmup.

As I got back, I went to the bathroom, then found my sister and listened to the pre-race talk, where it was confirmed that the run was an out and back. As quickly as that, the race started. I wished my sister luck and went to run at my own pace. Truth be told, I had thoughts of PRing at this race, but no such luck. I had a heavy workout week so I was pretty sure my legs weren't prepared for a fast race, despite all of the interval workouts I have been doing.

I created a playlist for this race and even put the songs in a particular order so I would know how the race was going without having to look at my watch. If I heard a song repeat, I would know I was having a bad race.

Well, a quarter mile into the race, the road turned, and there was a little hill that turned into another hill and then another. The first mile of this race was all uphill! What the $%$#? Seriously, I got to the first mile at about 9 minutes. Now, I know I am slow, but that was one tough mile. I made a turn and down a little hill we went, then ran a little ways and down another. The mental, are you f'ing kidding me, I didn't want to run back up them. The first mile killed me. As I started seeing people running towards me from the turn around, I started to notice that, despite my slow pace, there weren't that many people and definitely not many women ahead of me. The thought popped in my head, "Could I actually place at a running race?"

I hit the turn around at the bottom of a little hill by Tiger Stadium and worked my way through the second half of the course. As I made my way up the smaller hills, I scanned the oncoming runners to find my sister. I saw my sister about 5 or 6 minutes behind me. I gave her a little cheer and continued to focus on getting to the finish line. As I made it to the down hill, I started to realize that I was hurting. A couple of times, I thought about stopping, trying to slow down a bit, but I kept pushing through convincing myself that I could keep a faster pace.

I crossed the line with a watch time of 26:39, but a chip time of 26:42, not all that fast, but this was a tough course. I saw my mom, stood with her for a few minutes to recover then went out and jogged to find my sister. I jogged down the road and caught up with her with about a quarter mile left. She was definitely ready to be done, but she kept moving. I ran with her to the turn to the finish then yelled for her to "sprint it in!" and she did. She did her first 5k in 39:01, about a minute faster pace than any of her training runs. My mom was proud of her, and that was a great thing to see, not that my mom is rarely proud of her, but just seeing it on her face was a precious moment.

Out of 243 people, I was 73rd, my sister 189. I was the 20th overall female and.... 2nd in my age group!!!!

Some thoughts about this race:

1. I have a PR of a 5k of 24:48. Will I ever beat it?
2. I was definitely hurting during this race, but I think I could have gone faster. I don't know if it's mental focus or willingness to hurt that intensely for that long that prevents me from going faster.
3. It took me years to convince myself that I could run further than 2 miles, and my sister did it 5 months. She's a badass!
4. This race had 179 feet of elevation gain in 3.1 miles. That's a ton considering half of this race was down hill.

Now, I had some thoughts of PRing at this 5k today. I mean, I have been doing tons of speedwork over the last month, and I am getting faster, but after a long run Friday morning, I knew that my legs just didn't have it.