Transcendence

Most people do crazy stuff when they turn 40 - the classic midlife crisis type affair. There's buying a snazzy new car (does a 4WD Merce...

Mar 22, 2016

Learning My Lines

Back in high school, that phrase meant something completely different. Learning my lines, the emotion behind them and the marks on stage where I needed to be to deliver them. Now, when asked about learning my lines, I think about the smoothest and fastest way through a rock garden or down a trick descent. There is an art to reading the rocks and seeing the best path from Point A to Point B. The best technical mountain bikers don't even thing about it, they just see the line, painting it in their minds as they ride. As the slower rider, I'm rarely in the front of the pack. I don't usually get the chance to pick my own lines and find my own way down. I'm following Nick, trusting that the line he selected is the best for me as well. And while that has definitely improved my technical riding, its not the same as learning my lines. Every time I ride without him, I'm reminded of how important it is to be able to make those split second choices - left or right, over or around, when to unweight the front and when to let the rear tire roll.

Playing in the Klondike Bluffs area
 
Small among the rocks and mountains on the top of Klondike Bluffs
So after True Grit, when I realized that I was too tired to ride both smoothly and try to keep up with Nick, I got the perfect chance to practice finding my own lines. We rode in the Amasa Back area on Monday and I told Nick as we were rolling up Hymasa that he should do two loops of Upper Captain Ahab and I would do one. Then we would ride Lower Ahab together. It was perfect - he would get to ride at a more comfortable pace and I would be able to work on riding technical smoothly when tired. I would also get the chance to stop, take pictures and generally have my own time on the trail. Even with the early Spring Break crowds we'd seen in the parking lot and passed on the climb up Hymasa, Upper Ahab was empty. Time for me to settle down, ride my bike and focus.

Why not stop for a selfie at the top of Hymasa?
 
Fire and ice - the red rocks of Moab and the snow on the La Sals
Only the third time I've ridden Ahab, so I definitely don't have the lines down. Which was perfect. I had to see where the trail was going, decide as I entered an obstacle what would be the best line. I didn't have Nick advising me as to gearing and the transitions between descending, traversing and climbing. As I'd anticipated, I was a little hesitant in spots, slowly approaching the blind drops before picking my line to roll down them. I'm faster following Nick, but I don't have to think or process as much information when I follow him. It was good practice for me and I was feeling really comfortable when I finally reached the start of Lower Ahab.

Playing on rocks and following the blue line

I rode back up Upper Ahab a little, taking the time to practice a few different lines as I retraced my steps. And then I saw Nick blazing down towards me. I took a few pictures, but he wasn't in the best spot for any epic shots. Then it was time to finish out Ahab. I got to follow Nick's lines this time, feeling even more comfortable then I had in November. There was only one thing that I didn't ride this time, and that was because Nick told me not too. I saw what he did, how he rolled it, but it was a little bigger then he wanted me to do without a spot. So something for next time. But the rest of the trail - places that I'd struggled with last year were still big, but not scary. I know some people might look at Ahab and think, what's scary there? But for me, the processing still takes longer then it could and there's that cliff in places. I don't like cliffs....

Mar 18, 2016

Gritty

Sometimes, the race isn't just about time and competition - but the mental struggle to push through the bad patches. True Grit Epic was one of those races for me. After finishing 5th and just off the podium last year, I'd set my goal for top five again, but cutting 10 minutes off my finish time from last year. It was doable - at least the time goal - but as I saw the list of women signing up, the place goal was getting further and further out of reach. I might be racing endurance for years, but I still see certain riders as "big dogs" of the mountain bike world. And I am just a puppy, cutting my teeth on the rocks and singletrack. It would take a perfect race for me to be keeping pace with some of those ladies. I know going into a race already resigned like that mentally isn't good, but that's the place I was in. I hadn't gotten the confidence boost from the fat bike races like last year. This time I'd watched to winner easily climb away from me, feeling like the bike was stuck in molasses underneath me. And I'd been racing a lot - I had a race every weekend in February  between fat biking and running. Mentally, I wasn't in a good place heading out to St George.

But such is the beauty of mountain biking - when confronted with mental blocks like those, the joy of simply riding can take over. We prerode Zen and I was grinning. And then the waterfall on barrel rolls - I was a little psyched out the first time I approached the drop in and it wasn't the smoothest line choice. But the second time around it was like I was flowing down the rocks. I was happy, excited and ready to toe the line with some of the fastest women around. I knew I could ride the technical stuff with the best of them. As far as the fitness stuff? Well, that was yet to be seen.There are four main segment of True Grit - from the neutral start on the blacktop to Zen, the Zen loop, the fun of Bear Claw Poppy leading into the unending climb of Stuki Springs and then finally the singletrack on Barrel Roll. Two fitness sections separated by two techy sections.

Ready to race - the bikes waiting patiently
Race day came - cold for St George standards and damp, having poured most of the night. It was a double edged sword, the rain. Sure, the dirt would be tight and fast - very fast. But I was also worried about the rocks. The difficulty level of the technical riding just increased significantly - wet rocks and wet, sandy tires were not a good combination. But everyone had to ride in the same conditions. The benefit of the rain for me was the cool temperatures. We hadn't had much heat in Colorado approaching the race and last year, I'd struggled with the heat acclimatization. As in - it hadn't happened.

The start seemed fast to me, but I tried to stay with the leaders. As expected, the minute we hit the dirt, Jenny and Karen took off. I was in a large group of women - most of them I didn't know. Time to ride. It was easy to tell who was familiar with the trails in the meandering double track start - they were taking the faster, less apparent lines that eliminated both distance and climbing at times. My goal in that first segment - the wash start and then the up and down double track and single track of Barrel Ride - was to just stay within sight on the leaders and hold my own on the fitness climbs. I didn't have much luck with the first - Karen and her green kit and Jenny and her pink kit were soon well out of sight. But there were plenty of other women around to keep pace with, so I redirected to trying to just climb smoothly and not lose any more time on the fitness sections. Again, not as successful as I wanted. I felt like I was climbing well, but just not keeping the pace up. The mental clouds threatened, lurking just outside my vision.

And then we hit the waterfall and I was in my happy place among the rocks. The guy in front of me dismounted and was soon behind me. He'd catch me on the climb later and gush over the line I'd ridden. I was riding the bike, not fighting with the pedals. I was able to maneuver and muscle my way through the tricky rock lines and chunky climbs. I was having fun again and holding my own among the guys catching me. It was the same story on Zen - the guys were still catching me, but not in such a hurry to pass as before. I'd been right about the damp rocks and had to really nurse the power to keep  my tires from slipping out. I still managed to ride everything but two chunks on Zen - one of the steep climbs on the front side and then the climb back onto singletrack after the little road detour. And I passed a few guys on the descent - that rarely happens! I came through the Zen checkpoint ahead of my time from last year, but slower then I was hoping for. It would take some strong focus on the next chunk to meet my time goals.

Unfortunately, the focus was lacking. I wasn't speedy going down Bear Claw Poppy and had no motivation on the climb up Stuki Springs. I just wanted it to be over with. I had no one around me anymore - no helmets to chase meant the focus had to turn internal to keep the tempo and the pedaling up. And I just didn't have it at that moment. I watched the time ticking away, knowing that I wasn't catching anyone. I kept wandering out of the space I needed to be in, then wrenching my brain back into the competition. Ugh. And I couldn't keep my thoughts on how far ahead the leaders had to be, how slow I must be riding. Like I said, not a good place mentally. That changed when we hit the Rim Runner loop. I saw three of the leaders coming off the loop as I was entering - which meant the gaps were only 15-8 minutes. I wouldn't be able to make that distance up in the short time left, but I could prevent it from extending! I started Barrel Roll on a mission - ride it faster then I had last year and see if I could reel in some of the women I knew were between me and the leaders. It was a case of too little motivation too late, but a noble thought none the less. I was even more excited to actually ride everything on Barrel Roll this year - last year I'd had to walk three little sections. This year, there was no walking - just pedaling. And of course, sound effects help with everything! I don't know if it was the fact that I hadn't pushed as hard on the prior section, or the improvement in my technical riding, but I was very excited about cleaning the entire loop. It's the little things...

In the end, I was 7th - two places lower then last year, but with a much deeper and stronger field assembled. I was a few minutes faster as well, riding 4:23:32, and only a few minutes behind the next two women. There are always things to improve upon - and this year was no different. I started out in a mental funk, pulled out of it for a while and managed to prevent myself from sinking back into it when I thought I was out of touch with the rest of the race. And that mental focus will be something I need to continue culitivating and strengthening over the rest of the summer.

Mar 11, 2016

Learning to Walk

Something that's been on my mind since I started training for Sheep Mountain - learning to walk. When I was a "runner" and speed was my goal, I didn't walk. I ran. I never subscribed to the Galloway "gallowalking" method of racing and training - preferring to moderate my running effort so that I could run the entire event. As a mountain biker, there is a sense of pride that come with riding everything. No walking on the rocks - ease off and ride it all. Eventually, I'll be able to ride everything at full speed and smoothly. Off the bike for hike-a-bike was fine, but otherwise, I'd better be giving it a full hearted effort to ride! So walking wasn't something I've ever planned for or trained for. 

And now - as I start looking at increasing long runs and need for elevation gain, I realize I have to learn to walk. Long "run" may be the term I'm using, but it is really just tIme on the feet, making forward progress towards the end goal. The long run with Amber last week was the perfect example of that - time on feet and forward momentum. We had no agenda when we headed west, but did try to find some nice hills. And while I could have run it all, at what cost? I figured that out early in one of my other trail runs. Forcing the pace up some of the hills meant my legs weren't happy when it came to the inevitable descents. So this time I made the choice to walk early and often. It's a change of mind for sure, as well as a different style of long run training. I'm good at the continuous run, steadily moving at a decent clip until the distance is finished. With the ultra long runs, there's parts that are steady running, but others that require a smooth transition from running to hiking and back to running. That's a weakness of mine - the transition and something I will be addressing as I learn to walk and not just run. 

Why is this so important? There are hills in my goal race that even attempting to run would be silly. Sheep Mountain has nearly 10k feet of climbing over the 50 miles. And what goes up must come down since it's a lollipop style course. I did a shortish long run out there last year, just to see what I was in for. I ran the Limbet Grove trail and the ascent of Sheep Mountain, then came down Brown's Pass to return to the van. Three miles took me over an hour to complete and I was trying to keep the pace up! Running some of the climbs I saw last year would be crazy in terms of completing the event - and near suicide for any chance at time goals. And it begins - the retaining of my brain to accept walking and the practice to make it efficient. 
Four Months....