Oct 17, 2014

Half the Road

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 Neither does ignoring the physiological differences when insisting that the rules are outdated.

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

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

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

Oct 16, 2014

Body Image

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

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

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

Oct 8, 2014

Eclipse

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

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

Oct 5, 2014

Balancing goals

Sometimes setting goals is easy. Look at performances from last year and strive to improve. Make the jump up a step on the podium or ride a course even faster. Those goals seem so simple and are what most people consider traditional goals. I've made my fair share of those types of goals over the last few years. Then there the finisher goals - to just make it around the course without concern of time. When approaching something challenging even before factoring in a finish time, those are the best goals. But it's still all big picture goals - and mostly time related. Focusing on the big picture is good, but it can take away from the purpose of sport. If it's all about work and time and power to weight, the fun quickly vanishes. Setting out for every ride with just intervals and no time to enjoy the ride will make you faster - but it won't make you more skilled. And mountain biking isn't just speed and power - there is plenty of skill required and that can become free speed in the end.

Balancing the need for speed and the desire for fun is the ultimate goal. Letting go of the time goals and focusing on riding smoothly is hard in such a time driven sport. There's no style points along the way to the finish line in racing, so the empahsis on skills frequently get left behind. I've been just as guilty as the next person - eyes on the data, selecting the easiest trail or line when riding alone instead of testing myself. Part of that is for safety - crashing hard when I'm alone because I wanted to "show off" is pretty silly. But when I'm riding with Nick, I have no excuses. He's showing me the bigger lines, spotting me thru the obstacles. And when I practice with him, it gives me the skills to try the medium lines on my own. Something I need to keep working on... 

So one of the "off season" goals will be to challenge myself on the bike. Not just with the workouts, but the trails after the workout. If I have time to play after the intervals, it's time to look for something a little more challenging the Chutes. Or if I do take the Chutes, find the flow and the smoothest body positioning. When I'm outside of Stratton, look for rocks to practice the skills on - the little bunny hops, popping the rear tire over things. I should be better at that then I am - but those basic skills continue to elude me. Like many things, there's a progression with skills and if I can't master the basics, then the big lines Nick has been working on with me will be even more challenging. It's not just about going fast in a straight line.

There are two rock gardens in Cheyenne Mountain State Park - one on Blackmere and on on Cougars Shadow. I can take the easy line through the one on Blackmere, but not the big line. And there is no easy line on Cougars Shadows. Between now and next year, me and the Stumpy are going to spend some quality time there. Increasing VO2 and FMP is great, but I also need to address skills!

Oct 1, 2014

Two way street

Last week I wrote equality in sports - specifically in the uneven prize purses for many mountain bike races. And while I firmly believe that race promoters can help bring about change - taking the leap of faith to provide equal payout despite the discrepancy in numbers - there is also a weight upon the women. We cannot sit around, waiting for the money to show up, while complaining that there are no races that pay out. We have to make an effort to bolster our numbers, with or without the money. There are races now that offer huge and equal prize purses - the Epic Rides Off Road events come to mind. And where are the women? If we are going to complain about not having equal money, then we damn well better show up when it is available. Otherwise, what is the point. All talk and complaining without action isn't the way to bring about change. Support the events that support us, showing the race promoters that the numbers are there. Because if we don't it doesn't matter how much or how loudly we talk.

We have to be willing to race fun events that may not have the equal payouts - and encourage our friends to join us. And once we show that we have the numbers, then is the time to supplement our actions with words. Getting on Facebook and complaining about not having equal payout isn't the way to effectively communicate with race promoters. That's a good way to get ignored. Polite letters with well thought out arguments showing the benefits of providing equal payout for podium finishes, followed up by outreach will be more effective then social complaining. It's been proven to work at races around the country. Silently boycotting races doesn't help either - it just proves the point that women aren't interested in racing. So the race promoters don't see the point in changing the status qu and won't. We cannot shrug our shoulders and go "well, there's no money - I'm not going to race" and then complain to anyone who will listen. Again, not effective communication. How we communicate regarding this issue will lay the framework for the resolution.

I'm not trying to make a living racing. I'm just living the lifestyle, loving where my bike can take me and the adventures along the way. When I get a paycheck for riding my bike, it's a bonus. And I don't pick races based on if there is prize money - I just want to have fun - so I'm part of the issue. That's not to say that I don't get frustrated then the payout is uneven. But since I'm not relying on racing to earn my living, I also see the other side - how hard it must be to justify offering an equal payout ten deep when only 20 women race compared to 120 men. If I was the 11th man, I'd be frustrated with how "easy" it was for the women to earn money. I think that is the biggest hurdle that we have to overcome.