Oct 28, 2014

25 hours of fun

Frog Hollow - 25 hours of fun. Last year, Nick and I had no clue what we were in for. We didn't know the course or anything. This year, we've been there and are looking forward to the return trip. A course with a kick - after a long, steady double track climb the fun begins on Jem trail. A giggle inducing descent that pops out onto the rock filled Hurricane Rim trail. A pure climber will love the first half. The technical riders will find thrills galore on the Jem drop. Me? I just enjoy it all and I know Nick loves Jem.

One challenge of this race is the desert weather swings. From the start when it will (hopefully) be sunny and warm to the dark of night there can be a 40* temperature swing. That's what happened last year. I was broiling on the first few laps, sweating in the dusty sun. Then came the sunset and the desert chill. From a fully unzipped jersey on the climb to a wool puffy and wind breaker for my final night lap - that's the differences I'm expecting again this year. And I'm bringing the clothes for all of it. Nothing worse then shivering my way back to pit just cause I didn't dress right. 

One thing we are doing differently this year is just one bike. First time at a 24 hour race with one bike per person - my camber and Nick's stumpy. We are racing hard for sure, but we also want to have some fun afterwards. A van loaded to the gills with the full assortment of 24 hour gear makes it hard to have fun afterward. Gets a little cramped in the van. So one bike per person and come what may. Hopefully I can ride a little smarter then last year and avoid the flats. The Camber is the perfect bike for this trip - fast for racing but still fun on the descent. And then after the race - the Camber will take anything I throw at it. 

Oct 22, 2014

Transitions

I think Autumn is one of my favorite seasons - a time of change. The air is still warm, but starting to get cooler - especially in the mornings. The mountains are full of color, aspens and cottonwoods popping amid the green pines. There's always the chance that singletrack escapes might get dusted with snow and the campfire at the end of the day is a welcome retreat. The hustle and bustle of the busy summer weekends is settling down and the epic loops are nearly deserted. It's the perfect time to escape. Nick and I have taken advantage of the quiet for several long weekends the last few falls. The quiet trips also provide plenty of time to think - reflecting on the successes and weakness of the past season and pondering the goals for next season. There's a lot for me to think about this year - a lot of changes happening. More on that later.....

It's also a time of transition - from the hectic, race filled months of summer to the quiet off season of winter. I also tend to swap from cyclist back to runner during the winter, finding the miles on the road easier to do in the cold and snow then hard training on the mountain bike. It's served me well the last few years, providing a much needed change as well. I'm still planning my early Feburary half marathon this winter and have already started building up the running volume. I also feel like I need the running for my sanity - it's such a simple sport compared to riding. Just a pair of shoes and such and I'm out the door. Freedom like on the bike, but fully engaged in the movement.

But the race season is changing this year with the addition of fat bikes to our fleet. For the first time in six years, we won't be making the trek to the desert in Feburary. We will be staying close to home - bundling up and racing on the snow for the Leadville Fat Bike series. Really, it's a return to being a kid - playing in the snow without a care. Sure, there are number plates involved, but I have no expectations - other then staying upright! And finally - after putting it off for years, we've gotten ski gear. I know, we live in Colorado and we didn't own ski gear at all! Pretty pathetic. I sold my down hill set up years ago - when I hadn't used it in three seasons and Nick had a cross country set up. But we never went. The snowshoes were awesome when we had a decent amount of snow, but didn't
really provide the adventure Nick wanted. We needed something different - AT skis so we could explore the backcountry and ski the lifts. That kind of gear isn't cheap and with a focus on 24 Hours in the Old Pueplo, hard to justify. Not this year! Fat bike racing one day and skiing the next...

So this will be as season of transition - and finding new ways to have fun and enjoy all Colorado has to offer.

Oct 17, 2014

Half the Road

I've been looking forward to this documentary since I first heard about it. A reflection of women's cycling and the issues women face struggling to make a living through professional cycling. I was hoping for a thought provoking, introspective look at women's cycling and how to move past the gender inequalities. I know there are plenty, from the number of races to the  quality of the fields as well as the amount professional women are paid to the depth of the prize money. Simply awknowledging the problems is the first step of solving the issues. I was hoping that in addition to revealing the issues, solutions would be presented. And in that, I was disappointed. In my opinion, there was a lot of complaining about things, but no solutions offered. Complaining alone does not provide changes or incite cultural shifts. Getting up on screen demanding things but without the understanding of the cultural and economic challenges in meeting those demands does not help the cause. Neither does ignoring the physiological differences when insisting that the rules are outdated.

In my mind, it again will require a cultural shift to start approaching equality. Women didn't jump into Boston without a fight and it took years to be accepted in running. And even after the marathon was added to the Olympics, it was again years before the major marathons started offering equal prize money. It's not that the women weren't asking for it - but it took years for the culture to shift enough to make it really acceptable. Being a runner was something women could do - and did readily, in numbers now approaching 50% in many marathons. But that took time - and mandating already struggling teams to stretch even further to add a women's program won't help.  

And yes - men and women run the same distance in marathons - unlike in many cycling races. But one of the examples provided in the film about the distance disparity - if the men run a marathon, the women would only be offered a 10k didn't sit well with me. Even in the marathon, the world records are almost 20 minutes apart - and running is a physiologically natural activity - unlike cycling. Look at any major mountain bike race - the gaps between the men's winner and women's winner can be in the hours. And at 24 hour racing, the winning solo men are usually 2 laps or more ahead of the women's solo winner. I'm sure the gaps aren't quite as big on the road. And don't tell me the half of the data that just supports your point. You cannot compare times and speed of races that were not the same length and use that to support having races of equal distance.

So where does that leave the effort for equality in sports? A work in progress for sure, with no easy answers. I have to return to the need for a cultural shift that rewards the efforts of both men and women and encourages women to be active and participate in cycling and mountain biking. Maybe equality isn't the correct goal and a continued push for equality will only hurt women in cycling. Perhaps we should be looking at equity and the development needed for equality will follow 

Oct 16, 2014

Body Image

There is a stereotype about what true elite athletes look like - svelte and muscular with little to no body fat. Thin and tiny - even for the cyclists. When I was a runner, it was always very clear that I did not match that stereotype. I was inches shorter then my competitors, but pounds heavier. Standing in the starting ling for the 2005 Half Marathon National Championships, I looked like a line-backer compared to the other women. It was disheartening in a way - I felt like no matter how hard I trained, I would never be as fast as they were because of my stature. Instead of thin and lanky, I was stocky.  And that would never change, no matter how much I dieted or how far I ran. When I switched to triathlons, my broad shoulders became an advantage in the water. Rough water didn't bug me. With mountain biking, I've been able to throw the bike around and absorb wrecks that Nick was sure would break something. The stockiness was an advantage for the type of riding that we like doing. Yet still a disadvantage when it came to racing. I was still dragging the extra pounds up the mountain passes, in addition to all the "oh shit" crap in my pack.

I would be lying if I said it didn't bug me, that I didn't look at some of the slender racers with envy. Instead of focusing on that, I focused on my training - compensating for my statue with the extra work. And that worked, bringing me success this year in all my races. I might not have been the fastest at all of them, but I finished strong. But from the mouths of babes (or in my case, brutally honest demented old folks) come the harshest truths. An innocent statement about how he knows I'm a "hard core athlete, but you don't look like one...." Ouch. After showing him a photo of me in my national championship jersey. I don't look like a hard core athlete? Didn't help my mental state to be bombarded with images from the underpants run later that week - of very slender yet muscular women strutting their stuff. While I might have one time been as fast as them at the iron distances, I never looked like them. As Nick puts it, I've still got all my curves, even if there isn't much there. The lines have always been softer, less defined.

Body image is such a tricky issue with female athletes. I'm not any different - I know I'm healthy and strong, but there is always the thought. Could I be stronger, faster if I looked more like the "ideal" hard core athlete? If the lines weren't softened, but chiseled? And after years of being an endurance athlete, my weight has always been stable. Some fluctuations as anticipated, but fairly stable. I also haven't put any focus or emphasis on trying to loose weight, so staying stable has been easy. How hard am I willing to work to change that or do I need to mentally let go of the desire to look more like an "athlete?" Is the benefit of monitoring my diet going to outweigh the stress? Do I have the fortitude to be strict - to limit the nibbling and the snacks and only eat when I'm hungry? To decrease the portion sizes enough to actually make a difference? Or will that focus draw strength from my workouts, backfiring on the intent? It's hard to train at high intensity while attempting to lose weight. After all, riding and racing is a lifestyle for us - while the podium is always nice, the experience is really the goal.

Oct 8, 2014

Eclipse

Full moon and an eclipse. I was planning on running today anyway, but the promise of a lunar spectacle was enough to lure me out earlier. I missed the full Blood Moon - hidden behind the trees from my front window. I should have just gone out to see it, but needed to get ready for my run. As it was, the shadow of the earth was sliding off the moon as I started my run. There was a hint of reddness in the shadow over most of the brilliant moon, but when I tried to capture the image, my phone wasn't up to the task. The brightness of the sliver of moon showing overwhelmed the rest of the picture and there was no differentiation between moon and shadow. Oh well. It would be for my memory only with no visual record. I watched the shadow vanishing from the moon over the rest of my run, the reddness fading into brilliant white. Combined with the high clouds, it was one of the prettiest mornings in a while. The clouds were always there, but as the eclipse ended, they were illuminated into waves of faint greys and dark blues. A gorgeous sky as the moon was setting. I thought about taking a picture, but was in the middle of a hard mile and didn't want to stop. 

Meanwhile, to the east, the sky was opening into sunrise. Very faint streaks of color lightening from dark to blue. I'd left early to see the eclipse so missed the most spectacular part of the sunrise. A worthy exchange - seeing how few eclipses happen when I can see them. There will be another sunrise.