Apr 22, 2014

Follow my line

So I'm laying in the dirt, 20 feet below the trail with my bike on top of me and my only thought is "I'm happy I wasn't on my Camber!" Funny how our minds work at times... Usually Nick lets me ride which ever bike I want. Usually - sometimes he'll over rule my choice. For Saturday's ride, I really wanted to ride my Camber. Nick said I was gonna want the 2x on the Stumpy and so that's what I was riding. And as usual, Nick was right. But I digress.

When I told Nick I had a four hour ride, with plenty of climbing scheduled, he immediately had a route in mind. All I had to do was follow him, pace myself to ride strong the whole time and have fun. We rolled out of the house with loaded packs, warm clothes and sense of adventure. I knew we were headed towards Manitou, thru Red Rocks, but didn't know more then that. The first hour went smoothly. We got to ride the new entrance to Section 16 - good for climbing but not as much fun for descending... Then we rode up Section 16 to Intemann trail, and dropped down into Red Rocks. The trails were much quieter then I'd anticipated and we were able to keep riding hard all the way across Round Up. I was feeling comfortable on my Stumpy and riding everything so far. Before the last segments of Round Up, Nick turned up again for a fun little descent. Then we climbed back up to Intemann trail to keep riding towards Manitou. I'd never been on that section of trail, but was feeling pretty confident. It was fun - narrow and rolling with plenty to keep me focused on the trail. Two very tight switchbacks - didn't make either one, but almost got the second one. And then Nick paused, turning around to tell me about an upcoming rock feature. "Follow my line over this rock," he said. Okay. Should be easy enough. I stuck to his wheel as close as I could. We reached the rock and he repeated "follow my line."

High left on the rock, close to edge of the trail. What was so difficult about that? I wondered as I approached the rock. I didn't catch the little wheelie or body throw Nick added as well as the high left line. So I went left, pulled up my front tire to clear the first rock and... Oh shit. There was more to this rock then I'd thought! Instead of having enough speed and upward throw on my front wheel to clear the second rock, I'd only prepared for the first rock. Almost made it, trying to force my wheel over the gap between the rocks, I could see exactly what was going to happen. My front wheel stuffed in small space and it was all over. I tried to recover from the impending flight, but couldn't. The bike tipped one way, I pulled a foot out to brace the fall but found only air. After that, my only thought was "don't land on the cacti!" That itself was a tall order as the entire area below the trail was littered with prickly pear. I'm not entirely sure what happened between that thought and finally coming to a rest below the trail with my bike on top of me. It must have looked bad because when I rolled over onto my side, Nick had a look of horror behind his sunglasses. He was quick to encourage me to climb back up onto the trail once I started moving. I knew I hadn't managed to avoid all the cacti and was very focused on the spines digging into my left index finger. It took me a few minutes to get organized and drag my bike back up to the trail. Physically, I was fine. I'd whacked my left shin hard on something - still not sure what, and had cacti in more places then I cared. But other then that, I was okay. Nick pulled one of the spines out of my finger and I turned my attention to my bike.

Huh. That's not good. After a crash, the first thing I always check is my brakes - after all, getting back on a bike without brakes is a good way to crash again! And while I had brakes, there was something seriously wrong with my rear rotor. We finished out the section of singletrack - I walked the one of the two sets of stairs trying to get my head back together. I was talking to my self again and not worried about anything. Finally on the road, we got a chance to look at my rear brake rotor. Wow. Somehow in the middle of my flight, I'd bent the rotor completely out of whack with a noticeable wiggle-wobble during every revolution. That would make for a long day for sure. We still had more then two hours left to ride and I didn't really have solid rear brakes. And of course I hadn't brought any money with me to be able to buy a new rotor. We rode to Manitou and stopped again. Nick pulled my rear wheel off and worked some magic on the rotor. Better. I could actually pedal the bike again. I could feel the wobble in the rotor every time I squeezed my rear break lever, but it was rideable. On with the climbing!

And there was plenty of that to come. We rode thru Manitou, up Ruxton and then onto Ute Pass Trail. Just before the water tower, I was off the bike walking. My shin was throbbing, but my finger was hurting more. I hadn't gotten all the cacti out - and I could tell there was some cacti behind my right knee as well. When we reached to turn off, I finally got the last spine pulled out of my finger but chose to ignore the ones behind my knee. We took Ute Pipeline down, popping out right at the base of the Incline to the amazed stares of all the tourons. Then back to Intemann to finish out the ride. We didn't take all of Intemann - skipping the part where I'd gone flying on the way to Manitou. Into Red Rocks, where I opted to stick to the easier trails for the end. I was getting tired and wanted to stay safe on the bike. Clean through the Hogsback, down the new Section 16 chunk (not fun going down at all...) and on to Gold Camp. Usually when I hit Gold Camp at that point in a ride, I'm dead tired. Tongue hanging on the ground tired... This time, I wanted to finish out strong. I kept the tempo up, surprising Nick with one of the small accelerations as we climbed to the entrance into Stratton. For the first time, I'd kept the focus and held the pace on the final climb. My legs were tired, but responding well. The descent through Stratton was fun as usual and soon we were finished. I'd gotten in a good ride despite a warped brake rotor, had my ego well checked by a rock and generally had fun. The best kind of ride. I still need to work on holding those wheelies a little longer to be able to clear rock gaps.....

Apr 17, 2014

Perfect timing

Sometimes things just work out well, even when it's crazy. With a mid-day dentist appointment on Wednesday, I decided to teach my exercise class and then take the rest of the day off. I had my last hard interval workout of the training block scheduled and really didn't want to do it with a half numb mouth! Did not sound like a good idea or a smart way to get in the work I needed on the bike. So I taught my class and bolted home to get my ride in before the dentist appointment. It was warm, but with a chilly wind and a little muggy whe I left the house at 10:15. I had looked at the clouds building behind the mountains and decided to bring my standard backpack full of warm clothes. Better safe then sorry and I could tell that weather was moving in. Got the intervals done - feeling the fatigue from Tuesdays set - I'd meant to get up early and have a nice space between the two sets, but hadn't. So I was less the 12 hours between sets. Ouch. I'd also decided to hit a slightly different section of trail for something new. Worked well, and I finished up on Gold Camp Road. It was still sunny, but the clouds were definitely getting thicker. I should have stopped and taken a picture, but was short on time and wanted to finish my ride more then take some photos. It was really pretty though - the spring time sun, snow in the shade and the fresh green of the trees with sapphire blue skies and angry grey clouds. The wind was whipping the clouds around the mountains, casting the trail into intermittent shade. I really need to start working on taking more pictures again.

Made it home with just enough time to upload my files and and shower before the dentist. Great way to recover from a workout! Chilling with my feet up in the dentist's chair for an hour or so. It was actually really nice. But the rain was coming when I was finished, with the blue skies replaced with dark grey. With half my mouth numb, I was more then happy to head home and take a nap with the cats. Did some chores, but really had no motivation for anything. And the rain was getting heavier and colder. By the time my mouth was feeling normal, it was a wet heavy snow covering the mountains. I was so happy I'd taken the whole day off instead of trying to ride afterwards. It was cold, damp and just not nice.... I'd gotten sunshine and wind and no issues with my mouth. There's never a good time to see this dentist, but when I can make it work to beat the snow and still have a solid workout? Even better. And everything's done well before the racing starts. 

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.