End of an Era

I sold my motorcycle back to my ex the other night after two or so years of deliberating whether or not I could actually part with it. While it no longer made sense to keep it (there really isn’t much about a motorcycle that’s practical to begin with), I had to unpack a lot of attachments associated with that hunk of metal and plastic, like all the memories, my perception that I was a lot cooler with a motorcycle, and my tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, especially of the two-wheeled variety, before I could let it go.

That bike and I survived each other against odds that never seemed to be that great for rolling explosive devices in the first place. I dropped it countless times on loose, jagged rocks, I often neglected things like checking oil, or chain lube applications, or making sure fuel overflow lines were fit to do their job. On a very related note, one time, it caught fire in the desert, and I had many near-misses in traffic, some that I was very aware of, and likely many more that I was unaware of at all. Together we rumbled over high mountain passes here in Colorado, or just to work and back in the middle of the night. We skidded through sandy washes in Utah, and bucked some gnarly crosswinds on the plains through South Dakota. The bike carried everything I needed to eat and sleep for a few days, and quietly beared witness to nights of drinking around the campfire, recalling our misadventures of the day, and talking shit before we all finally wore ourselves down enough to go to sleep.

With the help of friends, I made sure the motorcycle came with me when I ended my decade-long volatile relationship, but with the exception of one weekend trip in the fall of 2020, the bike became nothing more than an occasional work commuter during the three or four months of our achingly short summer in the mountains. I no longer had anyone to ride with, as life did what life does – the moves, broken motorcycles, new relationships, and work had made it hard to get our old group together, even before my divorce. I held on to the bike because I held on to the hope that I would someday take it on more adventures, maybe with old friends, or new friends, or even by myself. I held on because it still made me smile during those 15 minute commutes, and sometimes, I would take the long way home. Eventually, I had to face some realities. I had no place of my own to store it for the winters, and had my tail between my legs when the ex offered to store it for me and I accepted. I didn’t have the workspace, or time, or skillset, for that matter, to do even basic maintenance. I couldn’t change my own tube when I had a flat tire, and almost got myself stranded.  

While I feel bad for giving up on the motorbike, I decided that I can love the memories the bike has given me, and still let it go. Over the last few years, I have been dedicating most of my free time to riding bikes of the non-motorized flavor. These I can pick up by myself when I crash and I can load them in the car if I need to take them in for maintenance. This alone has given me the confidence and freedom to regain my sense of self, and to go places I didn’t quite have the skills for on the motorbike, whether I am with friends or alone. And I usually go alone. While riding and racing mountain bikes has brought new friends into my orbit, and I am looking forward to someday having a built-in riding buddy, there is nothing more empowering than passing other bikers and hikers on the trail, and as we give each other a courtesy roll-call of how many people to expect in each party, I get to tell them “it’s just me”.

The 2020-iest Ski Ever

Reflections of an In-Bounds Warrior

I sat in the house watching the weather move from sunny and warm (for December) to increasing clouds during the second shortest day of the year, opting to go for an uphill ski after Keystone closed instead of taking advantage of the mild day earlier. I started up the hill about a half hour after the chairlifts stopped running, and the gray sky made for an early dusk. With music in my headphones and my eyes up the hill, I took one slow step at a time, placing my skins carefully for the most traction on the steep and skied-up icy pitch. I watch the remaining skiers dawdle down the hill, and eventually, a ski patroller I didn’t recognize come down on his sweep. He yelled something I couldn’t hear, something other than “closing”, probably the standard warning to uphill users about being on our own, and I smiled and replied something along the lines of “you too”.

 As I crested the top of River Run face and approached the gondola mid-station, the wind and snow picked up, but the pitch flattened out significantly, allowing me to knock down the climbing wires on my bindings and pick up the pace a bit. I’m a fair weather skier these days, and would have been well within reason to say “fuck this”, turn around, and go home. Instead, I reminded myself that we’re not meant to be comfortable all the time, so I adjusted the hood on my coat, turned up the music, and watched the snow as it swirled and danced back up the hill. Dusk turned to nightfall quickly, but smugly, I thought to myself how nice it was for Keystone to leave their lights on, even in the absence of night skiing, just for me.

About halfway up, I spotted a fresh skin track, wondering if I was going to catch whoever left it, and to my surprise, the only other person on the mountain soon came into view. I eventually passed him, and by then, my hands were cold and my only focus was getting to the top so that I could put on warmer gloves and layers and head back down. The wind and snow picked up even more, so the summit snuck up on me. I sidled up to the Outpost gondola building and began to transition for the downhill. Wet layers off, dry layers on, skins off, bindings locked down, boots tightened, almost ready to go, and…lights out. I wonder if that’s what that patroller was trying to tell me.

I grabbed my headlamp out of my pack and was proud of myself for being somewhat prepared. The guy I passed earlier made it to the top, and I briefly thought about asking him if he wanted me to wait before skiing down, since it was pitch black and snowy and all. He avoided me like we are in a global pandemic, so it was every man and woman for themselves, I guess. Already a bit dizzy from being a bit dehydrated (too much coffee, not enough water throughout the day), I had serious vertigo as I tried to link turns and my headlamp illuminated the flying snow and not much else. Barely sensing which way was up or down, the only thing I could do is trust my muscle memory and that I knew the terrain, and let go a little bit. Slowly, one turn after another, I was making my way, knowing that a right corner was coming and that the pitch would get steeper. I thought of how many people I have taken down in a toboggan off of that face, whether due to injury, or fear and inexperience, and I kept my pace steady. Before I knew it, my balance changed, I was off that face and the slope flattened again.

I continued navigating my way down, one slow turn, until I would see the faint outline of trees, then turn the other way. Repeat. It’s funny how easy it is to take for granted the fact that a closed ski area, groomed runs and all, is still a mountain, and I was up there alone at night and reliant on myself to come down safely. Two thirds of the way down and the blowing snow lightened up a little, and ambient light from River Run Village made it a little easier for me to see. I still had to look hard to avoid the few people who were sledding on the final face. Back at the base area, lights were on, people were walking around, the smell of food wafting from the restaurants that were still open for takeout. I was the one person still walking around in ski boots and carrying my skis. I felt like I had come from another world after surviving the darkness. I looked at my phone when I was back at the car, and saw an emergency alert for a squall. “I am the squall” I said to myself, misremembering some quote or meme I saw on Facebook earlier.

Turns out, I wasn’t the squall. The actual squall came in as I was driving home past the lake, and like the alert said, visibility was zero. There just wasn’t any. And so I put my car into first, sometimes second gear, and pointed towards a guardrail or road sign, if I saw one, to avoid driving on the wrong side of the road, then turn the other way until I saw headlights. Repeat. I’m happy to say I made it home without wrecking, and that was probably one of the shittiest drives I’ve ever had. From shittiness comes gratitude, however, and I was pretty grateful to come back to my warm home, take a nice warm shower, and cuddle my warm cat.

Unlikely Gifts

If I were watching a movie about my life in the past year, I would probably see too many scenes with a cat in it. I would see someone whose marriage fell apart, and she had to start over. I would see someone who just barely got her footing again until this adorable little pandemic slowly but surely eroded plans, dreams, and connections into unrecognizable forms of their former selves. I would probably feel sorry for this person, living alone in a basement apartment with tiny windows, discussing the meaning of it all with her cat, then start making a bet with others as to whether she would start collecting more cats or more bicycles. The behind-the-scenes perspective is fortunately much different, and I found it worth talking about.

It’s been seven months since I re-started my fresh-out-of-college life and moved into the lock-off apartment, and the fact that I am living alone continues to blow my mind. In my 36 years as a human, I always had to share my living space. I grew up with a loud and boisterous family, often living as an extended family unit, and sometimes sharing a room. I did the campus life in college, and continued to live with roommates in my early 20s, until I moved in with my now ex-husband. While I had a decent amount of time to myself while living with the ex because we often had different work schedules, living alone is a completely different animal, and a privilege not that many people are lucky to know. The experience of being with yourself, being responsible for yourself, and actually being yourself comes with powerful lessons and a level of emotional freedom that I can only try to articulate.

There are the obvious things. I have endless space for all of my stuff, arranged however I want. I can watch whatever I want (nature documentaries and stupid comedies), and not have to hear the TV when I want silence. I can listen to my weird-ass meditations and hippy music without judgement or annoying anyone else. I can talk loudly on the phone. I still sleep on “my” side of the bed for some reason, but I can go to sleep without being woken up, and not have to tiptoe in the morning to avoid disturbing anyone. I don’t have to deal with anyone else’s mess, and I can cook whatever I want, whenever I want to. Or not. Ice cream for dinner? It happens. Elaborate curry dish? Delicious. I can have people over, or not. I love the bra-off and sweat pants comfort of settling onto the couch with a cup of tea and a tiny furry poltergeist purring on my lap. Honestly, if you remember the first time that you were left alone as a kid, it still feels like that.

There are the deeper realizations. The first is that I had my shit together more than I originally thought. When the Coronavirus mayhem descended upon the world, it blew apart a lot of what I was trying to rebuild: My big race goals, learning my new job, connecting with new people, and reconnecting with existing friends. Through it all, I have remained secure because I was relentless in laying a foundation, with the help of many, even prior to leaving the ex.

When I first thought about moving out, I daydreamed about starting over completely, in a new town somewhere, looking for a new job and a place to live with no connections at all. I am glad I listened to myself and decided to make just one big change at a time. I had a stable job as an equipment operator, and getting hired a couple months later in the Town’s marketing department was really just icing on the cake.

I worked fast to move out of Blue River, where a coworker was kind enough to let me stay when I first moved out of my house, but I felt completely disconnected from my community. I was homesick as hell living so far from my old neighborhood, and I hated the commute. Finding my current apartment was divine intervention, and I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better place to weather the emotional storm that is the divorce process. A process that I was glad I initiated swiftly, a process that was finalized not long before the shutdown, a Band-Aid I tore off for the both of us.

I kept riding my bikes, running, walking, anything to get outside and move my body, and I stayed on my training plan, even as every race or event I was looking forward to was cancelled or postponed. I had every reason in the world to fall completely apart this year, instead I am able to simply begin again, and create new goals, dream up new ideas, and ride new trails.

The next realization was how much I am learning to own my shit because there is no one there to own it for me. There is no one else to blame for the mess on the kitchen table, or my shitty mood. While phone calls with friends and family are nice and can be helpful, it is now up to me to decide how to react, how to comfort myself, and to figure out what it is I need in the moment to get through a situation or a tough emotion. I am far from perfect on this, but my solitude has made me much better at catching myself in the act of creating bad stories and understanding that there are other ways to see any given situation.

The final big lesson I am learning from living alone and being alone so much is about self-acceptance, and dare I say, confidence. Those who know me also know that I tend to be hard on myself. When I first left my ex, I wanted to be around people all the time. I needed the support and I was stoked I had more time to hang out with friends. I wanted to meet new people and do new things right away to validate how fully I can live my life as a newly single person. I enjoyed coming home and being alone, but between work, training, and my newfound efforts at socializing, I usually didn’t stay there very long.

The pandemic forced me to face myself and deal with my own bullshit in a way I never have before, and I realized that it doesn’t have to be all combative. My mind drifts to almost every romantic comedy ever (and Beauty and the Beast) where the main characters meet and initially hate each other until they are forced to spend time together and then they start realizing that the other isn’t so bad and eventually fall in love. I’m not fully in love with myself or anything yet, but all this time hanging out with me has made me realize that I am actually a pretty neat person. I enjoy going on long bike rides alone more than I ever have before. I like making myself nice meals. I like buying myself little presents and I tell myself I deserve it. I will even take the occasional selfie when I dress like a respectable adult for work and think I look cute. I love doing things on my own timeline, and picking my own destination.  I have genuinely begun to enjoy my own company, and have started to trust myself; in my ability to get things done, in my ability to make the right decision for me, and in my ability to deal with hard times.

I don’t know yet when I will be ready to start making plans again with other people, and actually follow through with them. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to start joining group activities like trail work days or seeking out people to ride with. I know that I do occasionally feel tinges of loneliness. I know that I will want real human connection, or just to be able to sit down and have dinner out with someone. I know that I will want more campfires, and hugs, and laughter, and random moments with strangers that leave me feeling a little bit better about humanity. I know I want this pandemic bullshit to subside because it’s one more thing driving us all apart when it’s the last thing we need. For now, however, I will continue to learn about myself and how to deal with life. For now, I will just allow myself to be.

Interlude

I have been staring at the blank Word document for over an hour trying to come up with a clever way to describe my current situation and the events that have brought me to this exact moment of sitting at a kitchen table that looks nothing like my old one, without using lame bike racing metaphors or quotes that I just looked up on the Google. I wanted to share profound life lessons about things running their course, and change being hard, and hearts being broken, but all that has already been said many times in countless ways by literally everybody else. The Cat, who sat on the keyboard while I got up to stir some food, suggested “Fffffhffhfhhfhfh” with his asshole, but that doesn’t quite fully describe what happened either.

I can only say that I got to a point where I was tired of crying in loaders and dump trucks about my failing marriage anytime some sad song came on the radio for the past year, so I am no longer running heavy equipment for a living, and I am working on dissolving the marriage. I can’t show enough gratitude to the people who non-judgmentally listened to me and supported me, from the first spoken grievances and concerns about my life as it was, through the inevitable fallout after I blew it all up, and finally, as I am rebuilding with the optimism that everything will be OK. I can’t apologize enough to the people this has impacted, beyond Lee and I; to our families, to any friends who feel like they are caught in the middle, and to the community who has only known the two of us as a couple. I see all of you.  And finally, to Lee, I appreciate all the ways in which the past 11 years together have shaped me into who I am today. There was a lot of good in there too, and I will always give him credit where credit is due.

Within the past few months that I moved out, moved forward with the divorce, and started a new career, I also decided to take on the LeadBoat Challenge. For the uninitiated, the Challenge arose when the organizers of Steamboat Gravel, a very new and already wildly popular race, scheduled the 2020 event the day after the Leadville 100. Since there are enough crazies in the endurance world that would happily do both had the races remained  within a week of each other like last year, it made sense to see how many of them would be interested in completing both races in the same weekend. The rejection email for my application stated that hundreds of people applied, and only 50 riders were selected to participate. Too stupid to give up, I was already registered for Leadville through a 2019 qualifier, so really, all I had to do was get into Steamboat Gravel, and like magic I did.

As with my Singlespeed endeavor last year, it is on this platform that I will state my goal and track my progress. I want to finish the Leadville 100 in under nine hours then get my ass up to Steamboat and finish the 140-mile gravel course within the allotted time the next day. I will do both races on geared bikes. Like last year, I am going all in. I am working with an awesome coach, I am mindful of diet and always trying to do better, I’m still not drinking, and I am constantly working on my mindset. I am very aware of the additional challenges that I am facing this year in light of all that has happened, and I am looking forward to facing them head on. I hope to share it all here, as I do. Stay tuned.

The Wrong Gear #18 – Type 2 Fun

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. Although I will still continue to write on this website, this is the last post in the series. Better late than never.

It was about five seconds after the shotgun went off, if not the 50 minutes before, that I was sincerely and deeply wondering why I signed up for this. The turning stomach, the consequent multiple trips to the port-o-johns, and the rock-solid knot, somewhere in the area of my solar plexus, had a full stranglehold on me. I could not relax, regardless of the deep, intentional breaths I was taking. Deep breaths in between final words of strategy between Lee and I, and last-minute wishes of good luck to fellow racers. Deep breaths as the speakers played the same canned Leanne Rhimes version of the National Anthem they play at every race. Deep breaths as we were heaving our bikes up the first unrideable pitch that is Dutch Henri Hill. Deep breaths, as we were finally on our bikes, with people pushing, elbowing, and yelling their way towards the front of the race, while some, like me, were just trying to avoid becoming roadkill within the first half mile. Deep breaths, as the dust kicked up and made breathing and seeing that much harder, and deep breaths to control the mild panic as our train of racers would finally gain some speed only to come to a screeching slow-down when the course changed direction, terrain or surface abruptly.

The rest of the Silver Rush 50 only got harder. After a relatively mellow first few miles of climbing, by Mile Eight, I was counting down to Mile 13, the first aid station. After that, a brief respite of downhill, then I resumed my arbitrary countdowns, taking the course in piecemeal, from that section I could ride, to that section that I had to walk, to that section that I had to white-knuckle and dodge oncoming racers, to the turnaround and back. There were several times during the day I was holding back tears, contemplating quitting, wallowing in my incompetence, but too embarrassed to cry in public and also trying to conserve any fluids left in my body since I was clearly not drinking enough. My food plan solely relied on the opportunity to eat while hiking my bike, only to remember that it often took both hands to push the bike over the steep, uneven terrain. On the occasion that I did have a free hand to grab a snack, I found that it was almost impossible to chew, swallow, and keep down solid food with a dry mouth and upset stomach, while gasping for air.

Somehow, in the face of it all, I finished the race…three times. In the three different years that I have ridden the 50, I have had almost identical experiences each year, with almost identical results, my overall times being within minutes of each other, regardless of the bike I was using or the fitness, skill, and knowledge under my belt. It wasn’t all bad. There were certainly some redeeming qualities to those experiences. There were moments when I would forget about my misery and just settle into the grind. There were moments when the misery was salient, but all I had to do was look around to see I that wasn’t alone in my suffering. There were moments when I saw friends out on course, and saw other friends supporting with food, drink, and kind words at the aid stations. There were moments of mustering strength I didn’t know I had for final pushes, and the sweet final few minutes of the race, where I could see, hear, and feel the energy of the finish area. The Leadville Silver Rush 50 is the epitome of Type 2 fun. The kind of fun one has when the actual event or activity is over. The fun lies in the reward of completing something perhaps previously thought incompletable. It is the fun of looking back on the experience, even if no actual enjoyment was had during the event itself. Maybe the enjoyment was there, but it went unnoticed among the circling thoughts of misery and self-flagellation.

Type 2 Fun is an incredible teacher and motivator that has shown me how to deal with physical and mental discomfort. Type 2 situations pushed me to keep moving forward, even when I thought I had nothing left, when I was at my worst. They were also not limited to long races. For the better part of my riding “career”, it was Type 2 Fun that kept me biking at all. I went through so many rides and races carrying the extra weight that no amount of carbon components could make up for, of unmet expectations, low sense of self-efficacy, and persistent, underlying anxiety, if not full on dread, but the afterglow of accomplishment and race results that were not entirely horrible kept me coming back to the bike.

It wasn’t until I started my Singlespeed Leadville mission, perhaps one of the most goal and results-oriented processes that I have ever been through in my life, that I ironically transitioned from focusing and ruminating on results, to actually enjoying the process. As I followed a consistent training program, I started doing other things to take care of my mind and body, like eating better, meditating, quitting booze, and even subjecting myself to some low-dose anti-anxiety medication. All of which made mountain biking a little bit easier and more motivating in and of itself. As I began to celebrate small victories in higher power meter numbers and lower bathroom scale numbers, I also began to experience more moments of flow on the bike. I celebrated as I began seeking out more singletrack and harder lines, even though my technical riding skills are still not that great, and I celebrated for not entirely losing my shit if I failed at riding them. I celebrated that I made myself go to the gym or get on the trainer, even on days that I didn’t want to. I even somewhat allowed myself to celebrate good race results without completely diminishing them with excuses even when I felt compelled to let the world know that I was the only one in my category. Over the course of those eight months, biking and training simply became fun! The good, old-fashioned fun that I got to enjoy as it was happening. It wasn’t all roses. My focus on nothing but the training forced me to neglect some areas of my life. The house wasn’t as clean as I wanted, I was not the ideal partner my husband wanted, only the friends that were able and willing to ride bikes when it fit in with my training schedule were able to see me, and I became an insufferable bore.

Fast forward to almost three months after the 2019 Leadville 100MTB. It took me this long to write anything about it, because it went so uneventfully well for me. The weather and conditions were perfect, I was super well-trained, very prepared, and had a wonderful support crew in my friends and family. The race was so anti-climactic and predictable; everything from when and how I would take on more fuel, to knowing exactly how I would feel going up Powerline, to remembering to actually put my inhaler in my jersey for that asthma attack I figured would happen. In the end, I blew my expected finish time out of the water. What stood out to me the most however, was how was how much fun I was having. The race was still as hard as I remembered it. I was still mentally taking the course apart by sections and miles, like I do at all my races, so that I didn’t have to take it on all at once. I still spent a lot of time feeling like I have very little left in me, and still had to look around to make sure that everyone else was in the same boat, suffering adequately. Yet, I had no questions about why I signed up for this, I had no intention of quitting, or crying, or wasting energy on willing the race to be over. I knew I would get through it and  I allowed the physical discomfort to exist without all the extra mental anguish. In fact, during those 10 hours, I rarely stopped smiling.

Since Leadville, I put in a few more race efforts, but stopped training consistently for the year. I was amazed at how quickly the excuses came for not going out riding and exercising when there is no plan and no accountability, and no goal. I’m also amazed at how much pure, actual fun I have when I get past my excuses and get on the bike. I rode with friends, I attended a skills clinic, I squeezed in some glorious leaf-looking rides this fall, as well as my very first overnight bikepacking trip. I rode new trails and conquered some obstacles I never thought I could ride. I am also still trying to catch up on parts of my life that I had ignored since last December, and some of those parts are catching up with me. I have some decisions to make that will affect my goals and race plans for the following year, some of them will likely throw me deep into Type 2 territory. I just hope that whatever I decide, I will apply what I learned this year about mindset and hard work, and manage to create some actual fun along the way.

The Wrong Gear # 17 – In Retrograde

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike.

 

Planetary retrograde is an optical illusion that occurs when a planet appears to be moving backwards in orbit due to its position relative to us, the humble earthly observers. If you subscribe to astrological ideas, a planet in retrograde often means the emergence of little burrs, annoyances, and disruptions in many aspects of daily life- whether it be in communications, or inter-personal relations, politics, or technology. I stopped believing in astrology in high school because my horoscope kept forecasting 3-star days for me at best, with low prospects for my love life. I googled the term “retrograde” because I decided to it would be a great analogy for where I am in life and how I feel about my progress. It turns out that Mercury has been in retrograde for the whole damn month of July, and won’t look normal until early August. If I still believed in that hokey stuff, it would explain a lot about the last few weeks, like why I haven’t been able to make myself write this blog, or why our TV keeps crashing, why Flowers.com delivered my Grandma’s birthday bouquet two weeks early, why I feel like I’ve been speaking a completely different language from the people I’m trying to communicate with, why these random girls I have never seen around the County before keep stealing my QOMs on Strava, and finally, why I’m actually all worked up about it.

July wasn’t all bad. It finally started to feel like summer. I took some extra time off from work, and even work has been mostly ok, as I spent a lot of time alone gardening while listening to my podcasts. Earlier in the month, I raced the Firecracker 50, and had an absolute blast. I signed up for that race the evening we got back from 12 Hours of Mesa Verde (early May), and was beside myself excited about it since. Even with the course re-route due to the obscene amount of snow left on the trails, the experience did not disappoint. I rode well (enough), crashed a couple times, and finished within my anticipated time. Naturally, I wish I had gone faster and blown my ETA out of the water, and qualified for the Singlespeed Olympics in Tokyo 2020, but daydreams aside, I was pleased. Over the following weekends, I rode sections of the Leadville course, and supported Lee and some of our friends for their Silver Rush 50 race. I enjoyed being on the support side of an event for once, relaxing, hanging out with friends, and watching the racers do all the hard work. While I tried to keep my thoughts about what my hypothetical finish time for that race would be to a minimum, the time on my hands gave me ample opportunity to realize how much of a spaz I am. Still. I also made it through a tough training block, and rewarded myself with nice long weekend in Steamboat Springs with a friend, my second one this summer. This involved bikes, camping, good food, and sitting in the river to cool off.

Life has been good to me, which is why the little black clouds of self-doubt, scientifically known as “Shoulds” that keep coming over me are so insidious. The little worries about what I should get done in any given day, snowballed into stressing about the stressing. Stressing about stressing made me feel guilty that I haven’t been meditating as much as I should. Stressing and not meditating have been somewhat detrimental to the sleep I should be getting. Failure to meet certain numbers and metrics on my bike computer makes me wonder if I am still moving in the right direction with my training. So does going down in rankings on Strava segments (I still don’t know how to stop getting emails about it). I feel like I should be faster than I am right now, my heart rate should be higher at my top efforts, as should my functional threshold power (if you don’t know, don’t ask).  Riding my old singlespeed in Steamboat this weekend should have felt much easier than it did. I shouldn’t have been breathing that hard on that pitch. Perhaps all my improvements this year are due to the new fancy bike and not me. As the Shoulds gained momentum, they situated themselves into all areas of my life, from what I should or shouldn’t have said, to whom I should have said it to, to what I should really be doing with my life, or not.

With only two weeks until Race Day, all this griping looks like I have been moving backwards, towards my old tired and anxious self, and towards my old habits, with little time left to make improvements. But just as a planet in retrograde has the appearance of backwards orbit, yet in reality is still moving in its normal direction, what I am experiencing is as normal as can be. I think those Shoulds will always be there, and though I am bothered by them enough to write about it, I’m not bothered to the same extent that I used to be. I am still following the training plan to get me to the start line. I am still taking the steps and doing the work to become a better person, stronger rider, and someone who may eventually develop a sense of direction in life. Meanwhile, everything is as it should be.

The Wrong Gear # 16 – Wha’ Happen? Recap of my 2018 Race Season and Leadville 100 Fail

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

After hours upon hours of battling dust, winds from all direction, and angry leg muscles just begging me to stop, my lower back and my backside had enough. I had enough. I was alone and dejected from my slow progress and from my iPod Shuffle announcing its low battery. Me too, little buddy, me too. Shortly after the music quit, I knew that I didn’t have the luxury of doing the same, but I was not sure how my body was going to handle even a few more miles. I tried to focus on how beautiful the green, rolling landscape was around me, and decided if I were to collapse and die, at least it would be in a pretty place, like Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond (not in Titanic). And then, two riders caught up to me and graciously allowed me to ride their draft, easing the headwind and the loneliness. I apologized numerous times for being unable to take a turn pulling, I had so little left, I would not have done them any good, and they were really kind about letting me stay on. Eventually one of them broke away to join a faster group, but before long, several more riders showed up behind us, and we ended up in a pace line that seemed to be going somewhere. By then, the dusk turned to complete dark, and the glow of our headlamps and tail lights against the warm, damp summer night was cathartic and restful. We heard a train whistle in the distance, and voiced our concern about whether or not the train will delay us, but we pushed on. As we approached the railroad crossing, the gate arms had just lifted, the red warning lights had just stopped flashing, and we blasted over the tracks, barely having to slow down. 10 miles left to go. As we approached the next major intersection with a highway, we saw another train, this time of 15 or so riders barreling down the road perpendicular to us. This is one of the groups that added mileage to their race rather than wait at the railroad crossing for up to 45 minutes. I got my 18th and final wind, and two of us said goodbye to our little group and took off to chase the Train group. Their size and speed gave us the slingshot we needed for the final push, as we split off yet again into Emporia, up the final punchy hill, through the University, and onward down Commercial Street to the finish line.

Upon finishing the 2018 Dirty Kanza 200, I was buzzing with all the emotions that I could not express because of the overwhelming fatigue. Commercial Street was lit up with a full-blown block party; there was music blasting, the announcer was calling out the finishers, the crowd of spectators, support crew, and cyclists who already finished, were cheering wildly for those just coming in. I don’t remember how, but eventually, I found Lee, who was done a little before I was. The gap between us would have been bigger, but he got delayed by the train. I also spotted my in-laws, Meg and Lowell, along with Dex. The three of them ran amazing, diligent support for Lee and me before, during, and after the race. I couldn’t thank them enough. One of them took my bike, and led me to the truck so that I could get changed. Eventually we sat down for some food truck tacos that I could barely eat because my body did not know what to do with itself. My off-the-cuff training during the winter paid off. I wasn’t sure how I was going to prepare myself for such a long day in the saddle while living in a snowy wonderland, but I spent hours at the gym, put miles on my fatbike, and the season had been blessedly mild, so we typically didn’t have to drive that far to get on dirt. After getting beat up at the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde three weeks before, riding the whole of the White Rim trail in a day (with my ass still broken and sore from 12HOMV) two weeks before, I managed to recover and put it together to finish Kanza, two hours ahead of my own calculated ETA. I would not trade that experience for the world, but little did I know, it was the beginning of the end of my 2018 racing season.

The short story is that I never recovered. The long story is that I made some poor choices that did not really allow for me to recover and then train properly to even have a shot at getting what I wanted out of Leadville. At that point at work, we were doing four 10-hour days. I thought I would get plenty of riding in on my three days off, but I found that it took me one of those days just to rest up from the week. I was not getting home until six o’clock, and after baking in the sun and pulling weeds, and digging holes, I just wanted to drink a beer, eat some dinner and reset for the following shift. It was well over a week after Kanza that I even attempted to get back on my bike, and that attempt left me feeling weak and deflated. Another week, and I forced myself to go on two longish rides. I was still flat, and those rides set me back even further. A few days later, I was DFL at one of our local races, by a lot! And then I decided that racing the Silver Rush 50 in July was for me.

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I don’t know why I thought that race owed me anything. Perhaps it’s because I was doing it on a lighter bike than previous years. Or maybe it’s because I thought my fitness from Kanza would magically carry me through to a significantly faster time. Instead, I was physically and mentally crushed before I even got to the turnaround at Stumptown, knowing that I was already behind schedule. I was damn near in tears when I was walking what should have been rideable over the other side of Ball Mountain, then full on cried about it when I finished only a minute faster than the previous year. Expectations are an entitled bitch. After some beer and self-flagellation, my mind turned towards the LT100. At this point in time, I was planning on doing the 100 on my geared bike. I had every intention of doing that race on a Singlespeed the following year, but 2018 was about solidifying my strategy and fitness. I thought maybe I could even break the 10-hour mark. Then a week or so later, after setting a personal best climbing Columbine on my lightweight hardtail, I thought I got my mojo back. At least for that day, because that was the day Lee convinced to me to do a Singlespeed attempt for 2018 instead.

Those who know my husband know that he is the ultimate instigator. He has convinced many people in our circle, and even a few outliers to that circle to drop thousands of dollars on bicycles, skis, and motorcycles. He has goaded multiple people into trying bike racing, motorcycle camping, skiing lines that they may or may not have any business skiing, and always having one more beer. I too, have fallen victim to his persuasions, and that is why I now think that ultra-endurance events are perfectly normal, and I should be able to just do them. Lee has a way getting you to think that what you are about to do is the best idea ever, the only idea. I was allowing both him and Strava to inflate my ego, as he made a few compelling points, mostly centered around the fact that I was possibly as fit as I would ever be due to the Kanza afterglow, and that the fatigue wasn’t too much of a problem. He also pointed out that we knew that I could complete the 100 on a geared bike, having done so twice before, but we did not know if I could do it on a Single, and it therefore made the challenge more interesting. In spite of all my doubts, which I maintain even under the best circumstances, I was bursting with excitement on our drive home from that ride with the prospect of completing the race on Hans, my old trusty Singlespeed steed, that very same year. In spite of this new, more ambitious plan, however, I did not turn anything around.

While Lee was out riding almost every day, my weeknights still involved post-work beer and junk-laden dinners. My weekends were full of “shoulds” and excuses for why I wasn’t doing what I should be doing, which was primarily riding my bike long distances, or at all. I was too tired, it was too hot, recovery day, and work is my workout. There were more, but it’s hard to remember them all. One weekend in mid-July, we got our Singlespeeds out on course. We parked at the Turquoise Lake trailhead, where the course first turns to dirt, and rode St. Kevins, Carter, Sugarloaf and Powerline, down to just past the Fish Hatchery and back the same way. It was a really hot, dry day, and I was just suffering. There was likely a mild hangover involved. I kept looking at my times for each section of course, and apparently, my natural talent and post-Kanza fitness were not kicking in, because they were not adding up to a successful finish. Lee reminded me that it was damn near impossible to go race pace outside of race day, and that when the time came, the energy and the crowd would pull me along. This has been true in the past, but my times were way off.

My disappointing training ride still did not convince me to change anything. At this point, I decided, it was too late, and I was supposed to be tapering, which I know now, does not mean doing nothing. At the end of July, I spent five days in Philadelphia for my grandma’s 90th birthday and family reunion, re-acclimating to sea level, eating everything in sight, and drinking too much wine and vodka, the elixir of my people. Now just because I was doing nothing about my training, does not mean I was not spending all my mental and emotional resources worrying about the race. I wanted to finish, I told anyone who would listen all my concerns about not finishing, and more importantly I really hoped that I would finish, which is almost like training, right?

Race day started just like the last two. Dark as hell, cold as hell, my nerves were shot to hell. In the past, I was able to find a bit of calm in the moments leading up to the start gun, knowing I had done everything I can to prepare. This time was different. The gun went off, and I expected to be passed during the first few paved, downhill miles. But not like this. By the time we hit dirt, I was towards the very back of the pack. Into the first pitch of St. Kevins I was walking, but perhaps I would have been walking anyway. The climb let up a bit, but my heart wasn’t quite in it. I coasted down from Carter Summit, stopped to squat in the trees on Hagerman Pass road since everyone else in this group did so, and grunted my way up Sugarloaf. I gingerly picked my way down Powerline, and helplessly spun my pedals on the flat section to Pipeline Aid, appalled at how slow I was moving and how much time already elapsed. Our friends Gene and Fred, and my sister-in-law, Lori with her family were crewing there. I wanted to be positive, but all I could think to tell them, other than “thank you” was that I was going to miss the first cut-off at Twin Lakes, and I was tempted to give up right there. I ate some food, and puttered on. When I got back on pavement, I rode with a guy who told me he’s not usually this far back in pack, and that it wasn’t his year due to back issues. I told him it wasn’t my year due to stupidity. We stayed together for the rest of the climb, commiserating at the very real prospect of not making it to Twin Lakes on time, and since misery loves company, for the first time that day, I started to enjoy myself. When the road pointed downhill, he, and his many gears took off, while once again, I coasted.

I made it through the timing arch with just one minute to spare, with my legs furiously spinning, and the crowds cheering me on to go faster. I couldn’t go any faster. I slogged through the sandy, rolling climb to the Lost Canyon support area, where Meg and Lowell were waiting for me. They changed out my food and water, which I barely touched. Lowell checked over my bike, as a random lady parked next to them shouted some encouraging but empty platitudes about how I can do it. I set off to start the Columbine climb. I knew this climb well, but not having practiced it on my Singlespeed, I had no idea how much I would be off the bike. At this point, scores of riders were already making their way down, reminding me how far behind I was. After what felt like forever (because it was forever), I finally got to the Goat Path, the looser, steeper section of the climb that sits above tree line. This was the first time I noticed the ungodly heat that slowed so many people down that day. I was walking more than riding, as were most in the conga line going up, and saw several friends coming down, some giving me a shout, some concentrating too hard on their descent to notice me. And then I saw Lee. I had barely enough time to yell “I’m not going to make it”, and he yelled back “I know, that’s ok.” And then the pressure was off. This was the one opinion I was most concerned about, other than my own. This was the one approval I was afraid to lose. He didn’t try and push me harder, or pretend that I was still magically going to make up the needed time. The weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I trudged my way to the top, rode where I could ride again, and after a few minutes at the turnaround, headed back, knowing I could be done at any time. Back at Lost Canyon, Meg and Lowell gave me more food and water, again, I barely touched what I had, as I stood around deciding whether to quit or continue back to Twin Lakes, where I was positive I would miss the second cutoff. They pushed me to keep going, promising to rendezvous on the other side of dam, so that I wouldn’t be stranded if that were the case.

I made it through the timing arch with just one minute to spare, with my legs furiously spinning, and the crowds cheering me on to go faster. I couldn’t go any faster. I saw their red Jeep. I had one hour to make it to the Pipeline cutoff now. There was no way in hell I would make it, but with Meg and Lowell’s urging, I decided to keep going anyway, since I had nothing else to do at this point. Fred and Gene would still be there, and I could get a ride back to town with them. Those last 15 miles ended up being the most fun. The course suddenly felt just right for my gearing, and I felt light and playful for the first time in the race, maybe because I knew I wouldn’t have to go up Powerline. I teared up over the kindness and support that our family and friends were showing me. I embraced the cheering from strangers. I missed that cutoff by 15 minutes, and I was out of the race, a DNF at mile 73. The Frank brothers greeted me with kind words and some water. They loaded my bike, and I got back into Leadville with enough time to change and watch Lee come in on his Singlespeed. As far as the rest of the day went, I handled it well. The following morning, not so much.

I still went to the awards ceremony with Lee to support him, but I had no idea how painful it would be for me. It felt like waking up after a big fight that wasn’t resolved the night before. As racers with the fastest (and the slowest) times were publicly celebrated, and everyone in between lined up to get their finisher’s jackets and buckles, I felt unworthy to even be there. I was suddenly no longer part of the tribe, I was just an impostor. In the undercurrent of all those feelings was guilt. Guilt for wasting our support crew’s time, guilt for not training more, guilt for not just being naturally fit and fast enough, and guilt for quitting. Although I didn’t quit officially, I just missed the cutoff, I checked out pretty early on in the race. I may or may not have had more to give physically, but I gave up minutes at aid stations complaining about my pace and standing around in indecision on whether or not to keep pushing forward, minutes that could have gotten me through the Pipeline cutoff (maybe). In between aid stations, I was going through the motions of riding a bike, but there was no power or momentum to it. I was literally and metaphorically spun out.

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts since then, including to performance psychologist Michael Gervais. As a guest on another podcast, he said something that stuck and made sense of my dramatic emotions over a bike race. He said, using different words, that the human brain does not have a separate processing center or mechanism for the experience of losing at something versus the experience of actually losing something (or someone). They are both processed as grief. We can all logically understand that a bike race is just a bike race, one that comes around every year at that. But on the emotional level, I was grieving the squandered opportunity to prove to myself that I am the athlete I want to be, to fit in with the people I look up to, and to be more than just talk.

There are a lot of great things that came out of that season and that race as well. Lee and I completed two iconic rides (White Rim and DK200), which we have wanted to do for long time, within two weeks of each other. There are worse things to burn out from. And while I may have been disillusioned to think I could finish a race like Leadville on a Single with only some half-assed training, I did see pretty clearly going into it that I would learn a lot. That DNF lit a fire under my ass, and it got me moving. When asked that evening if I would try to race Leadville on a Single again, without hesitation, I said I will. A month later, I raced the Barn Burner on my geared bike and earned an awesome starting position for the 2019 attempt. I let the rest of the summer and fall be what it is. I ate more burgers, drank more beer, and rode some bikes among the golden-leafed aspens. In December, I got to work.

The Wrong Gear # 15 – Just Checking In

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

It has been a while since my last post, where I basked in the glory of not falling apart at a race that had menaced me the previous year. What have I been doing the past four weeks? I don’t remember. I literally just looked at my Training Peaks app to remind me of my own whereabouts and doings. To the surprise of no one who knows me at this point, I went right back into training. It has been pretty refreshing to stay local, though our “Spring” turned into a soul-sucking Winter 2.0. It’s been great for those who are still skiing, not so great for those of us who work outside and are sick of cold extremities and dodging decomposing dog turds. Our current statewide snowpack is somewhere at one billion percent of average, so many of our trails will be slow to dry out. Naturally, I bought a road bike, and within the span of a few days, I can easily say that I got my $175 worth out of it.

For this training block, Coach has me more focused on intensity rather than volume, but so far, my heart has not been interested in revving high. This week, I decided to do a 15 mile race, the Frisco Roundup, the first of our local Summit Series races. I prepped well, ate well, and was hoping to race well, but then it started pouring. I had already been hanging out in my chamois, soaked from attempting a warm-up ride in the rain, for two hours, when the race was postponed for the following day. I showed up again, this time in glorious weather, and had a great race. I rode well, used some tactics, made a point to hydrate, and had all of the fun. I got to see lots of familiar faces, and Lee, who was stuck working late, and Dex, who raced (and won) in the rain the previous night, before they cancelled, both turned up to cheer me on. Most importantly, I learned that I can handle two days straight of pre-race shits, and still push myself.

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All in all, I feel like I am making progress. I feel stronger than ever, but as the Leadville 100 looms closer, some self doubt is creeping in. I was five minutes faster this year at the Frisco Roundup than when I did it two years ago, but between all the training and the lighter bike, should I have been faster yet? I haven’t ridden any really long climbs yet this year, will I be ready for that by August 10th? I still don’t know what kind of gearing I’m going to run (spoiler alert: It’s the Wrong Gear), but what if the one I pick is more wrong than the other? Will I burn myself out riding the same three trails because everything else will stay snowed in this year? And will the traditional Leadville 100 course remain the same, or will they have to reroute due to all the snow, leaving me to try and prove myself on something lower, lesser, smaller. Whether my fears are based in much truth or not, I suppose it doesn’t matter. The doubts can hang around if they want to, but all I can really do is keep plugging away, enjoy the small victories, learn from my failures, and embrace what’s to come.

Stay tuned for a race analysis of last year’s Leadville 100 MTB, where I delve into everything I did wrong!

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The Wrong Gear # 14 – 12 Hours of Mesa Verde Race Report

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

12 Hours of Mesa Verde is an ultra beer-drinking event with a really long bike race added in as a bonus, and is based out of the Montezuma Fairgrounds in Cortez, Colorado, just a few miles from Mesa Verde National Park. The riding happens across the highway on the Phil’s World trail system, a network of rolling, often buff singletrack that winds through sage, cactus and pinon, and tops out to vistas of high desert, neat rocks, and much higher and neater mountains in the distance. Even neater, the race raises money for several non-profit organizations in Southwest Colorado focused on the helping the youths. In this race format, the objective is to race as many laps as you can within the 12 hours, with those who did the same number of laps ranked by the total actual time it took to complete them. As an example, Lee and I did the same number of laps this year, but he placed ahead of me because he was half an hour faster. This race can be done as a relay with teams of up to four people, or solo.

I love travelling and I love racing, but doing both at the same time and calling it a vacation gets a little exhausting, especially since the Adulting Fairy does not seem to come around and take care of the life maintenance for me while I’m gone. Fortunately, as of now, I don’t have any more races planned where I have to pack an overnight bag, until after the Leadville 100. This is one reason that completing Mesa Verde feels like a giant weight off my shoulders. The other is the the emotional baggage associated with that race that I was finally able to put down after carrying it around all year. That sounds a bit dramatic because it is. I am a mountains-out-of-molehills kind of lady. The reality is not that interesting.

I did OK last year, finishing five laps (84 miles) on my old singlespeed, but I was not happy. The course has just enough technical sections to expose my overall weakness as a technical rider. I noticed myself walking over sections many other riders were clearing with ease, and I was bucked off a few times, screwing up small obstacles and almost non-existent rocks, stuff I should have been to ride. The rough sections were demoralizing, tiring, and by my fourth lap, kind of terrifying. I forced myself through a fifth lap, but at that point, I wasn’t really even trying anymore. I had time for a sixth, and chose not to do it, citing my decreasing skill set and my increasing overall pain. Meanwhile, Lee came in after seven laps, earning second place in the Singlespeed category, exhausted and slightly delirious, but rightfully proud of himself. I kind of wanted to be mad at him. The race had left my whole body sore for days, my tailbone hurting for a month, and enough disappointment in myself to last me through my Leadville attempt last year, where I got to replenish my disappointment. In other words, butt-hurt, in many ways.

This year went way better. We left Summit County in a whiteout snowstorm as soon as I was done work on Thursday, with our crewman and good friend Dex in tow. Snow turned into rain and heavy fog for most of the drive to Pagosa Springs, where we stopped for the night. We had dinner and a couple of beers that for some reason tried to murder Dex and I the next morning, and sat around in amusement when the bartender at the hotel bar recognized Lee as a classmate from high school, from 20 years ago, in Minnesota. We got to Cortez early enough to ride one lap of the course before it started raining again, checked into our hotel, and went for an early dinner. We picked up our swag and number plates at the Kokopelli Bike Shop, and patted ourselves on the back profusely for demonstrating just a little bit of self control, and not walking out of there with a $2,300 titanium gravel bike that fit me perfectly. N + 1, they say.

The rain from the earlier in the week and the day before the race, and the frequently changing forecast had us a bit worried, especially since weather has drastically affected most of our races this year, but we were ready to give it a go. At 630 on race morning, the race director made the call to delay the start by one hour to let the trails dry out a little bit more. That turned out to be the right call. It now became 11 Hours of Mesa Verde, and here is how I did:

Overall objective: A. Although this was a big race, and all my races this year leading up to Leadville are technically “training races”, what made this objective unique from past events is that I was sort of racing to train, as opposed to training to race. Because I was still head-casing about this race from last year by remembering every single rock on the course that did me wrong, I wanted to completely remove the competitive aspect. I went as far as giving myself permission to quit after one lap, pull up a chair, and crack open a beer, if I decided this wasn’t fun. Fortunately, Coach gave me a different mission, in case I wanted to put my hard work in the past few weeks to better use than day-drinking. We decided on a four lap minimum, with a focus on riding as technically sound as possible. I managed six laps, and although I slowed down as the race went on, I rode the last lap with as much technical integrity as the first one. This does not mean that I cleaned every obstacle, but I was able to ride more of the course than last year, much more solidly. This is a huge deal for me.

Training/Fitness: B+Things did not really start to feel any better since my last post from a couple weeks ago. I was not feeling strong in my workouts, I was still stressing about adjusting to my new schedule, I had a nasty crud since the day after I got back from Philly, and I still did not feel like I was recovering well from my workouts, even during the taper week. I did not believe Coach when she told me I was going to be pretty damn fit for this race. Finally, during a ride around the lake with Lee and Dex the day before we left, I started to feel like I was getting something back. At the pre-ride I felt stronger yet. Although I didn’t quite have the top-end horsepower for this race, I was notably faster, steadier, and stronger. This made the rough terrain way easier to handle, and I did not have to rely on momentum as much to make it up the punchy climbs. The only reason I am not giving myself an A is because I skimped on a few strength and stretching workouts. Specifically some upper body stuff. Incidentally, the day after the race, the only place where I was really sore was…my upper body.

Preparation, pre-travel: B. I have my routine pretty dialed, and prepared everything I could in the limited time I had throughout the week. I relied on Lee quite a bit more than usual because I had work all week, and he did not, and we also planned to leave directly from my job, so it was up to him and Dex to close up the house and make sure we had everything we needed. I am not giving myself a higher grade because I took for granted that Lee would deal with my bike for me, instead of cleaning it and checking it over myself.

Preparation, pre-race: A. Not much to say here. We debugged our bikes on the pre-ride and checked them over one more time. We put on our number plates the night before, and set everything out for the morning. It honestly went pretty smooth.

Nutrition, pre-race: D. It’s so hard to eat well when travelling, especially when travelling with others, and I forget that it’s not all about me. Coach and I had talked about improving in this area of race prep by researching restaurant menus well in advance to increase the chances of finding healthy meals. However, we weren’t really decided on which route we were taking to Cortez or how far we were going to drive that evening, so I didn’t really know where to start. By the time we started looking for food on Thursday night, we were tired and hangry, settling on the first place that looked open and had easy parking. We had a very similar issue the following day in Cortez, getting done with the pre-ride at the awkward time between lunch and dinner, where restaurants were either closed or not serving the stuff we wanted off the dinner menu. I will still own my choices and will do things differently next time. The only reason I didn’t give myself a total failing grade is because some things I ate were OK, I drank a ton of water, and it was that time of month where if I didn’t eat melted cheese, I would kill.

Nutrition, during race: A, but with a caveat. This was probably the most calories-to-miles I have managed to take in during a race, or even during long training rides. I even ate some real food (organic canned soup, bagel chips with hummus) in addition to the gels and Gatorades. However, I only drank and refueled in between laps, at the truck, where I would sit down and hang out for a while. The exception was the last lap, where I stopped half way for a minute for a gel and water. For training, and for making sure I could do the distance that day, this was great! I confirmed what foods work and sit well with me for endurance events. The glaring issue here is that I did not feel comfortable, at any point on the course, to take a hand of the bars for long enough to eat on the go. Had I been racing in earnest, this food strategy would have cost me a lot of time, or a lot of energy.

Execution of Strategy: B. The strategy was to just ride, focus on the technical aspect, and have fun. It sounds like a cheap answer, so I’ll elaborate. Since this was an actual race, I could have been way more assertive at the start and put myself in a better position before we went onto the singletrack. I could have taken much shorter breaks in between laps, as discussed above. I could have pushed harder overall. Yet, based on the way I felt throughout the day, it would have been way too easy to cross that thin line between feeling like I had more in me, and completely blowing up. In this case, I think I benefited a lot more from a training perspective, and had a much better result as a racer, by erring on the side of being too laid back.

Attitude: A. This was quite a big change from last year. I think taking the pressure off  by not striving for any sort of result was key. I have been stressed and grouchy for at least a week leading up to the race, and was expecting to have a pretty lousy pre-ride on Friday. I accidentally had fun though, and it helped set the tone for race day. I loved catching up with a friend and drinking hot chocolate during our start delay. I was able to laugh it off when a guy crashed in front of me three miles into the first lap, and I crashed on top of him (so was he). I was a lot less bothered by the rough sections that absolutely rattled me last year. I employed every mental strategy that I could think of to get through the tediousness of going in circles. I was having fun, and I wanted to quit after every single lap. Both of these statements were true, and I have never had a long race where both of these sentiments did not exist simultaneously.

I save attitude for last on my race assessments, because that is the single most important factor in not only how a race goes, but why I am racing in the first place. When the training and packing, and bike maintenance, and last meals are done, and the start cannon goes off, all I am left with is my attitude. In some ways, I have been lucky, as I am furiously knocking on wood, that I have not really been tested with any major mechanicals, illnesses, or injuries that can make or break a race. That is not to say that what I have done so far isn’t hard. Saddle sores, fatigue, self doubt, and weather are all a part of endurance riding, these things affect everybody. However, my special talent has always been mind-fucking myself in the absence of real external factors. This race was a turning point for me, not just because of the progress I made in my fitness, but because I managed to get through it without making the experience significantly worse for myself for no reason.

The self-doubt crept in plenty of times (“Holy shit! Why am I tired after just one lap?”), and I was definitely not happy just pedaling away the whole time. I was absolutely doing Bike Math: “I am a little over halfway through the first half of the hard section, that goes on for approximately two miles, and when it’s over, will leave me with four miles to go in the third lap, which means I will be 3/4 of the way done if I do four laps, but only halfway done if I do six. There is no way I can do double of what I haven’t even done yet.” I remember the anger I had for myself, and frustration I felt with the course last year, and how tightly I hung on to it, and I had so little of that this year. The difference was my repeated, although not perpetual, awareness of my thought processes, my newfound ability to remind myself to be present (sometimes), as well the relief that comes with being able to let go of the bothersome stuff, like not cleaning an obstacle or the tension I felt in my shoulders. The self-talk is still loud, constant, and obnoxious, but it has been a little bit less mean when I fucked up, and little bit less pitiful when I wanted to feel sorry for myself.

I ended up with a pretty good result, placing 5th in Singlespeed, made more special by sharing the podium with Lee, who placed 4th in Singlespeed (there was no separate category for singlespeed solo women). Yet with less than three months until the Leadville 100, now is not the time to rest. I can’t help but notice that it took me 11 hours to ride the 100 miles at Mesa Verde, and that race had only half the elevation gain of Leadville. There is still more work to be done. I will also continue to work on my mindset, because life and bike racing is way more fun without the temper tantrums inside my head.

The Wrong Gear #13 – Not Always Sunny

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a Singlespeed mountain bike.

Like with all goals or projects, training for something is pretty easy when you see your progress and feel like you’re on the right track. When a bunch of little frustrations build up to be bigger frustrations, however, it starts to sound way more fun to just throw the whole thing away and go have some beers instead. In my previous post, I was happy with my last race, yet lamenting how much better I would have placed if I had the chance, if we didn’t get rained out, and were all allowed to complete that last 21 miles. It turns out that surmising hypothetical outcomes doesn’t prove anything to anyone, not even to myself, even when I could potentially be the hero in my own story. The reality has been a lot less flattering to my abilities, because the truth is I had one good solid ride three days after the race and I haven’t felt strong since then.

There have been several factors contributing to my lackluster performances of late, one being the fact that work got more phyisical as we have moved away from winter operations and have been doing some spring cleaning. While it is far from the hardest job on the planet, I have been going into work tired from my workouts and then into my workouts tired from raking gravel, picking up rocks, and using a 23 foot long pole to remove strands of Christmas lights from trees. We have also moved back to our summer schedule at work, so instead of going in at 1pm through 9:30, I now go in at 7am and get done at 3:30, with different days off. None of this is a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does require some adjustment; from sleeping, eating, and food preparation schedules, to how my body feels working out in the morning when I’m fresh, versus working out in the afternoon after work, when I would really prefer a nap. Perhaps I am being dramatic (it takes me a full  two weeks to stop bitching about the Spring Daylight Savings time change), but it honestly feels like I have significantly fewer hours in my day now.

Adding to my fatigue and increasingly foul mood has been the weather. One of my favorite quotes, from what was once one of my favorite books, is from Tom Robbins, when he said “unless it was about to cause you bodily harm…weather ought either to be celebrated or ignored.” I’m not that stoic, and I suppose bodily harm is always a physical possibility with much of the weather in the mountains. After setting up my geared bike to go outside instead of sitting on the trainer, I was supposed to go out for a long, but relatively easy ride on Sunday, my one day off during the shift change week. It was afternoon by the time I got out, and Weather Channel called for rain showers around then. I diligently packed for rain showers. I did not pack for a snow squall that came in about an hour into my ride. I was about a mile from the top of a climb, and since I told the five people who read this blog how much I love riding in the rain, I decided I would continue to the top instead of turning around right away. As a result, I got way wetter and colder, and my only goal then was to get back down to Keystone Resort so I could wait inside for T̶h̶e̶ ̶w̶e̶a̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶c̶l̶e̶a̶r̶ Lee to come get me. While I survived the five miles back down Montezuma Road, I struggled to keep my sunglasses free of snow, and wondered about lots of things, like why does this time of year have to suck so much, about my decision to brush Lee off when he warned me about the weather coming in colder than forecasted, and whether or not it is possible to get frostbite on my forehead.

 

When Lee showed up about twenty minutes later, he had a warm coat and hat ready for me, loaded up my bike while I sat in the truck, and was really nice to not give me the “I told you so” crap.  I had written the ride off for the day, both relieved and disappointed, and we went out for lunch where I had a couple beers. So naturally, the sun came back out, and when Lee, who had no beers, decided he wanted to give riding another shot, I had no real excuse not to. Full of rainy day lager and a chicken sandwich, I went back out to complete my ride according to the training plan. It wasn’t pretty. If I was slow on my first attempt, I was even slower on the second. The miles on that loop that are usually pretty easy, felt like a slog. My legs started crying for help the second I thought about putting any power down, and the dismal numbers on my bike computer seemed to confirm how I felt. I want to say that the ride got better, and all the recently uncovered dog shit I had to dodge notwithstanding, it kind of did when I decided to be ok with sucking. The evening was warm enough, and the way the golden hour sunlight played with the clouds was just right to stop for some pretty pictures.

I also want to say that my week and my workouts improved since then, but they haven’t. While I managed stay close to the plan on most of my training sessions, there were exercises that I couldn’t do, and numbers that I couldn’t hit because I just didn’t feel strong enough. After a shitty effort at the gym this past Wednesday that almost had me crying in public, I came home and finished packing before driving down to the airport where I took a red-eye flight to see my family in Philadelphia for a few short days. The couple of really uncomfortable hours of sleep I had on the plane that night took their toll on me. Thursday was a whirlwind, as family visits frequently are, so though it was a “rest day” from training, there was nothing restful about it. Today was calmer enough that I could get a workout in. I went for a run, but I had nothing still, and believe it or not, I got poured on for most of the time I was out. I was soaked again, but I didn’t really care this time, it was kind of pleasant. In my own way, I was celebrating the warm rain, and enjoyed being in it again.

 

It is very obvious to me that I need a reset. I’m not entirely sure what that will look like. As the most imperfect perfectionist, I can’t help but feel like I am just not trying hard enough, but at some point (I don’t think I am there yet) I just need to accept that this is where I am for now. Encouraging conversations with Lee, a change of scenery, a break from work, and some time with my family have helped with that.

If there is ever a time of year when Philadelphia looks more appealing than Summit County, this is it. I’m not a city person, even though I used to be (a little), yet coming to visit gave me a completely new appreciation for the place where I grew up. I love taking the regional rail from the airport (I have a thing for trains, when I was three I wanted to be one), even though in true SEPTA fashion, the 6:41 train never showed and I had to wait an extra half hour for the next one. I loved watching the sunrise over the Center City skyline. I still love staring down the tracks, and ever since I was a kid, thinking about how far they could take me, definitely to some pretty place, if I just followed them forever. I love how green everything is here, and how a even small patch of trees is dense enough to make me feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere. I love watching city people on their way to do everyday, city things, and thinking how that could’ve been me if I stayed.

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I love the long conversations with my mom and my 90 year-old grandma at the kitchen table over tea and the Russian food that I grew up with. I love feeling that sense of self within both of them, the dark sense of humor, the warmth that hides beneath the irritability, and the high excitability. I loved going to my mom’s first art show in years, a reunion exhibit for several members of an art gallery co-op that my mom belonged to years ago in Manayunk. That gallery has long since shut down. I love that my grouchy grandma, who grumbles at my mom for everything to her face, couldn’t stop telling my how talented my mom is while sitting in her roller chair out of my mom’s earshot. I loved how my aunt and uncle showed up to the opening reception, as well as several family friends, even though it was a weeknight and everyone has had a long day already. And I love that one of my favorite people ever, my best friend since the 10th grade, drove up 45 minutes after a long day of work and kids to meet me at some Ye Olde Seedy Bar so we could catch up and loudly talk over each other like we always used to, never really having to explain ourselves, or be anyone other than who we are.

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This whole mountain bike mission and fitness crusade that I have been on, is all about bettering myself and fighting my demons, and becoming a new person by doing, by making a plan and putting in the work. The person I was, the one I am trying to change, is the one who grew up in this strip-mall, working-class, immigrant neighborhood. Many of my insecurities came from never quite fitting in with this place or the people in it. I wanted out of Philadelphia and into wilder places basically since the first out-of-town vacation my family took me on, and coming back here usually wears on me pretty quickly. This time feels a little different. This place is also where a lot of good memories happened, and where a weird but strong family settled after leaving their old lives in Russia to start anew and do the best they could with what they had. This insight comes from the fact that I am getting older, and more importantly, that my family is getting older. I realize how much of their world already changed, and how they will not be around forever. I still want to become faster, stronger, and more self-confident, and I am hoping that what I gain through cycling serves as a steppingstone to doing some cool and possibly meaningful things in my life, but I also have a much deeper appreciation for this other part of me that comes from the people and places that are all too easy to take for granted, that I will miss terribly when they are no longer here.