Apr 14, 2014

Split persona of Colorado

It's more then a joke in Colorado - the crazy weather. It's really part of life. This weekend was a typical schizophrenic springtime trip on two wheels. Saturday - sunshine and 70. No fooling - I rolled up to Starbucks for the group road ride wearing just jersey and shorts for the first time all year. No arm warmers, no vest, no knee warmers. After the last time I'd joined the group, I was hoping for another successful outing and maybe getting over Link Hill again. That was the goal at least - always the goal. On the rollout on Platte, I knew it wasn't to be this time around. The pace was already high and I was already struggling to close the gaps forming. Someone was in a major hurry! The group was also weird, with a lot of people I didn't know and more aggressive vibe then normal. Instead of my usual of trying to be in the first few riders, I drifted back. If I wasn't going to be able to do any work at the front, I needed to stay out of the way. After the right, I tried hard to stay in the pack, but something was freaking me out. I just wasn't comfortable in a group of that size with riders I didn't know and trying to ride that hard. I eased off just a little and let the main group go. It wasn't what I wanted to do, but I felt more comfortable right away in the small bunch of stragglers. We got organized pretty quickly, although some of the guys weren't very good about pulling though. We kept the organization going all the way to the turn to Hanover. The main group had been going pretty hard and were already coming back. I was annoyed that I hadn't even tried to stay in the main group, but happy with how hard we'd ridden in the chase pack. We'd almost made my normal turn around at the bridge.

I did manage to stay in the pack for the rest of the ride back into town. They were still going hard, but not attacking any more so I felt much more at ease with the size of the pack. I still avoided doing any work at the front though - I wouldn't have been much help at all. This time we rolled right down 85/87 thru Security and Widefield. Not a huge fan of that road under most circumstances, but the group was amazingly well behaved on the ride north. We had no issues with cars or traffic at all, despite the number of vehicles on the road. I stayed to the inside of the shoulder, well away from traffic. At the turn onto B-street, I opted for climbing, knowing that I would be dropped again. Sure enough, as we made the turn off B-street, one of the fast guys attacked. I tried following the group, but not on that steep hill. Time for some solo climbing to the zoo, then home. Legs were tired, but I actually had my fastest time up to the zoo. Hard work paying off! I could tell I wasn't used to the heat though - I brought three water bottles with me and used all of them! Working on my tan lines while working on my fitness...

Then came Sunday. A complete 180 from Saturday. Cold and cloudy when I woke up and started breakfast. With a long mountain bike ride on the schedule, I knew I was relegated back to the Canyon where I've been riding all week. The decomposed granite of the canyon makes it the perfect get away when the weather is wet. It also meant I'd be riding the Stumpy - and while I love that bike, I really want to get some time on the Camber before the end of May. Oh well. I'm a little jealous of Nick - he's gotten plenty of time on his Camber, unlike me. But with the looming snow and already falling rain, I wasn't gonna take the race bike out in the slop and wet. Unlike the last few workouts where I was dodging people on the road, there was no one out. It was cold, windy and wet but utterly quiet. We had only tracks on Columbine and free reign on every other trail we rode. We actually beat the snow home, cutting the ride short just a little because of the weather. And I still had to run. I think I ran in the snowiest part of the day! But got it done...

Apr 11, 2014

Missing the quiet

Back to work this week after a fun and much needed recovery week and I'm missing my dawn patrol rides. When I first started them it was because Coach Adam wanted to challenge me more and have less recovery time between the hard workouts. I wasn't looking forward to the first set, but soon came to enjoy the quiet trails and undisturbed workouts. I appreciated that even more after the first two interval days this week. Wow. With many hiking trails currently closed (a whole other story) and the reservoir now open for dogs, it was crazy busy compared to my prior rides. I'm sure it didn't help that it was the first really nice and not windy days all spring. Perfect day to get outside and enjoy what we all love about Colorado Springs. But just wow - and the lack of consideration some trail users demonstrated was even more amazing. 

Instead of ranting about it, I'm just going to alter my schedule. It's not worth continually putting myself into the insanity of immediate post work trails. Everyone wants to enjoy the nice weather and get outside. It would be nice if people paid attention to other trail users, but after this many years of riding at Stratton, I know it's not going to happen. It's not thing when I'm out goofing off and letting the dogs pass by is a great way to practice track stands. It's another when I'm doing a workout and have specific intervals. Then I need to be more aware of timing - no one else knows I'm trying to hit specific numbers. And if they did, they mostly don't care. So I'm not going to get mad or annoyed. I'll just return to the dawn patrol where it's me and a handful of others out and about. I'm sure as summer heats up even dawn patrol will get busy. But it won't be as bad as the after work rush. 

Given some of my goals for this year, riding at all hours will be beneficial for me. I'm sure there will be more afternoon or evening workouts combined with early morning rides. It's all part of the learning process and developing as a rider. It's also minimizing conflict. I don't forsee trails getting reopened anytime soon despite all the work people are putting into this issue (again, another story) and if getting out early gets me done before the rest of the city, its one less person overloading already crowded trails. 

Apr 3, 2014

Puzzle pieces

Take a puzzle - a bunch of random pieces forming a bigger picture. Cut to fit only the pieces next to them, putting a puzzle together is a challenge of focus and patience. And sometime just luck. Now imagine instead of one picture, there are five. All mixed together with nothing but the tiny pictures to provide clues. In addition to figuring out which peice is with which puzzle, you still have to put them together. It's the perfect metaphor for ultra endurance racing. In addition to the puzzle that is life, there are all these additional pieces to fit together. There is nothing quick or easy about figuring out the combined pictures. It take effort and patience. There is no rushing the process.
The puzzle pieces of life - waiting for someone to sit down and put it all together. 

One puzzle is training. That's what most people think of when preparing for a major event. Have I done the physical training? Put the miles and the hours in? Hit all my workouts and the targets for those workouts? This year, I've already been challenged like never before - and it's only April! I've also learned somethings that work well for me and reinforced the benefits of keeping in my other sports even while focusing on the bike. There's more then just the time on the bike or trails though - the little things also add up. Upper body strength to be able to handle the bike smoothly at hour 20 during a 24 hour race. Core stability to withstand a screaming fast descent at 2:00 am. Those things aren't frequently addressed and never make the epic blogs. It's just not fun - but oh so necessary. On the flip side of training - especially for ultra endurance events - is the risk of doing too much. Overtraining is an insidious shadow, lurking near the end of every training block and every workout. Putting the training puzzle together requires careful thought and evaluation of what your body can handle. If you're lucky, you will have help with this - I know I am with lucky to have Coach Adam keeping me grounded. 

But that's just the physical. Mental is another seperate picture. It doesn't mean much to have awesome training without then mental strength to back it up. Even short races have dark places mentally - I can remember struggling thru the miles of marathons that weren't going well, wanting to quit, but knowing I couldn't. And those were only three hour races. Now add on another four, fourteen or 21 hours onto that and imagine how deep the darkness gets. There's a lot of places where it would be easier the sit down and stop instead of focusing on forward motion. In some ways, you can train that mental strength - entire books have been written about winning the mental battle. But the will to keeping striving has to come from within. If the desire isn't there, then it doesn't matter about amount of training or reading. There's also recognizing when goals need to be modified and being willing to make the needed changes. A plan that dictates every action doesn't provide flexibility when things go wrong. People who have solved the mental puzzle will be able to analyze all of the possible situations, factor in the physical fatigue and stress and make the best decisions at that moment. Again, the team surrounding you makes the mental puzzle simpler, but when on the trail alone, there is no substitute for mental strength.  

Then there's equipment. This could be many smaller puzzles as well. The longer the race, the more involved it becomes. From the bike to the clothes to pack to carry it all or pit setup, there's so many little issues to keep track of. Just one wrong could cause complete collapse. Every item has to be evaluated - purpose, weight, and functionality. In a race such as a 24 hour race, things need to be organized and easy to find. Just because you'll be back in an hour or so, doesn't mean things can be scattered. Time is of the essence with time in the pits during 24 hour races. For longer trail races, where carrying everything is part of the race, functionaly is important. Does that light weight, packable rain jacket actually keep you dry? Will everything fit comfortably in what ever pack you select? Are the base layers going to keep you warm, but not overly warm when the sun comes out? And finally - the bike. Can you do all the basic repairs that might be needed on the trail? Beyond just the flat fixes - chain repair, a broken cable - things like that.

Finally of all the racing related puzzles, there is food. During training, recovery and at the race - what is going to provide the energy you need, the electrolytes required and not upset your stomach? This is the most personal and also one of the hardest puzzles to figure out. Everyone is different and while gels and sports drinks work great for some people, others may not be able to tolerate them for more then a few hours. Practice what you think you're going to want to eat in training and be ready to make changes. What works at one race might not work for another. I've gotten back to eating real food on the bike and not relying on the gels at all. It's helped me and I've had less issues with gut rot and not being able to take in calories. But the menu for a 24 hour race with access to the pits and a cooler full of food is going to be very different then a long, epic day on the bike. I still need to practice for the longer days and figure out what I can eat easily and carry easily. Lots of research still to be done here, which means time in the kitchen and in the bike! Two of my favorite things....

Of all the puzzles, life is the most important. It doesn't do any good to be a slave to every other demand racing requires if it's at the expense of life. Involving family and friends in the journey and working with them to reach your goals makes it easier - I've learned that the hard way. Sometimes that means training early before dawn. Sometimes a workout needs to get moved around to family activites can be accommodated. Life is compromise and deciding with compromises can be made is the bulk of the puzzle. If you're lucky (like me) your partner will also be involved and family time can be training time. This only works when both people are about the same speed otherwise there will be conflict in the very activity meant to bring you closer. Anticipate being out together, but alone on the trail. Bottom line is that being fast isn't as important as having a good support system. Life and family provide a support system, but only when that support is returned. This puzzle needs to be completed first or the rest of them will be meaningless. Build a happy and well rounded life before focusing intensely on the goals of racing. Those goals may change after some reflection....

That's what intrigues me about the ultra distances. Solving the big picture as well as the smaller puzzles. It takes more the pure speed to succeed  - it takes a complete athlete as well as planning  and a little bit of luck. Miss one part of the whole and success will be challenging. Take something for granted and it will be even harder. I've got some challenging races this year and I will need everything to reach my goals. The training, the mental, the equipment and the food all need to be addressed while I manage life. Right now, I've got the pieces scattered on the floor and am just starting the sorting process. It's going to be a long, fun journey that's been years in the making.

Mar 30, 2014

Doubting myself

I'm very hard on myself. Always have been. I set my goals high and can be very negative when I don't reach them. Sometimes I start the negative talk before I even have a chance to see if I will reach my goals. Not very healthy and makes it hard to see what progress I've made. This week was no different come the group road ride. I was tired after a full block of training with lots of hard workouts. I was already hesitant of how I would handle myself and if I would be able to keep up to Link Road. Then the fast people started showing up. Russel, Fernando, Kalan, Kelli and a whole host of honest to goodness pro riders. The only one missing was Danny Pate! At that point, I was making plans for a nice long solo time trail into the wind. I was very confident I would get dropped and dropped hard early in the ride. But I pushed that to the back of my mind. I was there to ride hard, get some practice with bike handling and see how long I could last.

I made sure to stay in the front 3rd as we rolled east. Smart move as we hit the light on Chelton on yellow. There was a momentary panic as the front quarter went through and the next quarter debated then bolted. This time, I was far enought front that I was able to sneak through. So there was already separation in the group before the right - and I was in with the fast people. Yikes. Time to focus and ride my bike. There was a bit of lull before the right as the leaders slowed to let a car through. Then the line strung out for the turn as the speed picked up. And I was right there, fourth wheel. Okay - I've made the turn, now to keep it up. With the headwind, I wasn't spun out like last time, but I couldn't put my nose out in front. I tried once and did a half decent but short pull, knowing that it would be the only one I would do. The rest of the time I was following wheels, staying close but never in the front. A short stop at the first light and I was able to keep the gap tight and get back into the group. Brian made short attack and I jumped on - but couldn't help so we were swallowed again by the bunch. Another very brief stop at the second light - not even long enough to unclip and we were off again. I was still there, but starting to struggle with closing the gaps down. Got yelled at by one of the guys to shut a gap down - which I managed to do - without his assistance. The sweeping right was fast approaching and I was still in the main pack. Allowing myself some hope that I might make the left onto Link, I kept my nose out of the wind and my wheel tucked in. It was a bigger pack then I was used to - I'm normally out the back at that point. After the left on Link, we bunched up again and I panicked a little. Instead of soft pedaling and just drifting out to a safe spot, I tried to force my way out. A little bumping, handlebar to my hips and I relaxed. It was more aggressive then I needed and I was lucky nothing happened. The pace picked up as the Link hill approached. I was still there, but struggling more and more. I knew getting up and over the hill in the group would be hard. Somehow I managed to crest the hill right at the tail end of the bunch. I tried my hardest, but never quite managed to bridge back up into the pack. Just over the railroad crossing and I was done. Popped completely. I glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone was coming up - no luck. I seemed to be the only straggler. Kalan and Trevor would catch me about halfway down, but it was just the three of us. 

But I made my goal. I made it all the way to the top of the Link Hill in the main pack. All the training, strategy and stressing about the group ride, I'd turned in a solid performance. Not the smartest or nicest, but solid. All I had to now was to survive back home! No more Fort Carson so we took a meandering route through Fountain and Security back into town. I stayed in the back and just followed wheels. I couldn't do anymore work at all. I was in survival mode for sure. All the rolling hills were another nail, but I wasn't willing to give up yet. I was safe in the pack and wanted to stay there. And I almost made it all the way back. One hill too many and I was alone. After all the doubts and negative talk, I'd made my goal for the group ride and then some. All the training paying off - getting fitter and stronger. It's not always fun, but it's getting the job done. Looking forward to the next block of work!

Mar 27, 2014

Busy morning

I didn't get any cool sunrise or deer pictures this morning. There was a heavy bank of clouds that kept the temperature down and light conditions grey for most of my ride. But that doesn't mean it wasn't fun - or hard work. I took a different way into Stratton this time - via the road instead of the trails behind the high school. My first thought when I hit the Ridgeway parking lot was "wow - the lots full! And it's not even 6:30 yet? What's going on?" But I didn't think to much about it as I wanted to finish my warmup and get on with business. I did my usual playing around, practicing some wheelies and throwing in a few harder efforts to prep my legs for the workout. Saw one of the normal dog walkers and waved hello - I think they are starting to get used to me and my lights in the morning. The parking lot was still full when I rolled around to start the first interval. Even weirder, but not time to think about it. I hit my watch and started the interval. Up the road, headed for the chutes. As I climbed, working on even power and cadance while still keeping steady traction on the loose gravel, I started pacing people hiking. Way more people then I've ever seen on a dawn patrol ride. Many of them were wearing the same shirt and they all looked very grumpy for being awake at that hour. Maybe that's why they were so oblivious to anyone else on the trail! Well, that and the industrial sized headphones pumping music loud enough I could hear. I was kinda frustrated - I've come to love the quiet trails at 6:30 and did not want to deal with that kind of traffic on my interval. I was also wishing for my super loud bell. Just saying "rider back" didn't click with some of them, although the shadows that appeared when I got right behind them also should have been a bit of a clue! 

Instead of turning around at the top like I planned, I just dropped Gold Camp. I wasn't going to deal with the crossfitters again if I could help it. The second interval went smoother - more normal levels of traffic, ie none. Then time to play for a while. And I noticed something this time - I tend to do my interval, then chill and not focus on the ride. I goof off instead of recovering then upping the pace a little. That needs to change - it doesn't make much sense to do the work, then not follow through with some strong riding. I worked on that a little for the rest of the ride. Forcing a little more spunk into the climbs, emphasizing the smoothness on the descents. Everything is important in mountain biking - not haut going fast. I've got to be able to ride smooth when fatigued. It's something Nick has discussed with me many times, riding hard and then riding smooth. I've got time to address it now. After every interval set, make the rest of the ride count. Make it count but keep it fun! 

This was my last dawn patrol for a while. I think it's time for a bit of recovery! I'll miss the quiet and the empty trails. But recovery is just as important as the training for getting fit and staying healthy. Two months to go...