TrainerRoad post #1

I just got done with my first actual workout on TrainerRoad and, since I have a feeling this is going to change a lot about how I bike, I’m going to track my thoughts and progress over the course of the 6-week plan that I’m following. I actually wish I would have written down some thoughts before I started the workout, because a a significant amount already changed during that hour on the trainer.

A big part of the idea behind starting this blog was about being 100% honest, both with other people and myself. Especially myself. And I really didn’t like admitting it, but I did not want to start that workout. Part of this was thanks to TrainerRoad’s Ramp Test, which, to quote their website, is set up to “give you the most accurate estimate of your current fitness and establish a benchmark for tracking progress.” I did the ramp test a couple days ago, and the number it spit out for me was 122. Divide that by my weight in kilograms, and I get a ratio (FTP, or Functional Threshold Power) around 1.93. In other words, low. On a chart containing ranges of “fair” to “world class,” that literally puts me on the line that goes from “fair” DOWN to a section called “untrained/non-racer.”

Okay, fine. I’m untrained. I’m not exactly a racer. That just means I have more room to improve, right? Well, that’s part of the problem. For a multitude of reasons that I’m not going to go into on this post, I have very little faith in my ability to improve significantly – and that made me very hesitant to start any sort of training plan. No matter what I told myself rationally, I was pretty much convinced that I would either be in excruciating pain for the entire experience, or literally nothing would change. Great – I’d be paying $15 a month just to prove that I’m a failure.

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But I digress. I’d picked the base phase “Low Volume II” training plan, and since I completed the Ramp Test previously, that meant I started with the Ebbetts workout. Looking at it didn’t help my nerves. An hour? Of intervals? Made to push my specific limits? And did I mention it meant an hour on the trainer? I usually manage to get about half an hour on the trainer before the pain in my legs and my boredom both become so acute I throw in the towel. (Okay, if I’m being totally honest, the boredom usually tips the scale more than the pain.) Either way, the fact that all the rides in this plan were at least an hour long made me apprehensive.

I made one other change on this ride, and that was the addition of a cadence monitor. The hubby really wanted this – I thought it was essentially unnecessary.  After all, our trainer (Wahoo Kickr Snap, will review later) already tells us heart rate, speed, and power – how much difference can cadence make?

You bikers are shaking your heads at me, I can see it. It turns out, cadence can make a big difference, and this was the start of my evening revelations. The hubby had previously been listening to a playlist with 90 bpm songs to keep his tempo correct; TrainerRoad suggested I keep my tempo at 85 bpm or higher. When I started the ride and settled into what I thought was a decent cadence, I was biking at about 50 bpm. Oops.

To my extreme relief, the workout didn’t kill me in the first three minutes. In fact, it actually began at a far slower pace than I would have started myself, at 50% of my FTP, before gradually ramping up. (Hey, I actually did a proper warm-up!) By the time I got to the main intervals, I’d decided I could finish the hour – and I was already eleven minutes in! By the second interval, I’d figured out how to read the entire display, and over twenty minutes had passed. For perhaps the first time ever, I’d worked up a decent sweat on the trainer without fighting boredom.

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It was around this time that I started to pay more attention to the tips on the screen.  I’d expected things like “pedal faster” or “go harder now.”  I didn’t expect the mix of tips showing me how to engage more muscles (“focus on pedaling horizontally for a while”), motivation (“Just be relaxed and make it look easy, and even YOU will begin to believe it”), and gentle reminders (“fatigue is never an excuse for poor form”).  Waiting to see what would pop up next, I forgot to focus on the seconds dragging past.  After countless hours of training alone with only my own , the commentary was a novel concept – and I loved it.

The other thing I noticed and appreciated is that TrainerRoad takes the mental aspect out of going harder.  There was no need to muster my willpower to do the sprints – the target power went up, and I matched it.  It told me when I could rest, but only at a certain level with a certain cadence for a certain amount of time.  While I can see this being annoying for more advanced riders, I’ve known for a long time that I’m bad at pushing myself.  I’d been curious to see if a preset plan would help or not.  Since it definitely did, I’m very excited to see what I can actually do with someone else setting the bar.

Writing this post has been another revelation in and of itself: every issue that has held me back previously has not been physical.  Confidence, boredom, and willpower are my biggest enemies, not the muscle or lack thereof in my legs.  In that context, improving doesn’t seem quite so daunting after all.

Choose Your Day

What stories do you tell yourself? This morning, because I’ve been paying attention, I’ve caught “I hate calling people,” “I’m such an awkward person,” and “today is just bleh.”

In other words, I’ve got a lot of excuses to do less than my best work and settle for having a “bleh” day. And while I can’t change the weather, the rest of that is all my decision.

What stories do you tell yourself? Do they push you forward, or are they holding you back?

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You might not be on a beach, but you can focus on the positives.

Gear Hack: How to Carry Your Skis

Gear is expensive.  While a lot of what we own was either a present or purchased second-hand, it still adds up.  In fact, I’m kind of scared to know how much money we have sitting in our gear closet, made up of bikes, skis, climbing equipment, shoes, coats, bags, helmets, and other accessories.  Oh, the accessories.  Talk about the feather that broke the camel’s back!

Our big gear purchase this winter was skis and ski boots, which we’d budgeted for and have since used enough to “save money” by not renting the equipment.  What I hadn’t considered was how we were going to transport our skis, nor the fact that I am clumsy enough that I have managed to hit a door frame, drop a ski, and pinch my fingers between skis in the course of about two minutes.  (It was bad.  My husband stopped asking if I was okay when I yelped.)

In short, it didn’t take long for me to start looking into ski bags.  Fortunately, I found one I liked AND ended up getting it for Christmas.  Unfortunately, it was the end of November when I found this out, which meant I had half-a-dozen ski trips to manage without causing damage to myself, my skis, or my apartment walls.

I could have gotten through it without any sort of help.  I have made it through 25 years on the planet, after all.  However, it got a heck of a lot simpler when I realized that skis aren’t all that different from yoga mats in several key ways – and I already had a strap for my mat.

Would I use the strap now that I have a nice, padded ski bag?  Probably not.  But in the interim, transporting my gear became much simpler, all for the price of $7 that I’d already spent.  It even matched the colors on my skis.

So if you’re ever despairing the cost of an accessory, take a look around to see what else might work.  (Save this for the stuff your life doesn’t depend on.  A knock-off helmet or climbing harness can cost you a lot more in the long run.)  And if you’re looking for a cheap way to transport your skis and poles, this is the strap I have.  If anyone gives you crap for it, tell them you’re going minimalist – and enjoy having the extra cash to spend in the lodge when you’re done for the day.

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Fearless

 

Fearless

I bought a necklace on a whim the other day, and while I normally rotate the necklaces I wear, I keep reaching for this one.  Somehow, the simple act of putting the word “fearless” around my neck makes me less likely to hold myself back.  And I love the fact that simply reminding myself bravery matters to me makes me stand straighter and tell myself, “you can do this.”

 

 

More Living, Less Chores

I’ve been getting frustrated with chores lately.  Not “I’d rather read a book than straighten up the kitchen” – my inner thoughts have sounded more like “if I have to touch another piece of laundry or dirty dish in the next year I am going to SCREAM.”

There’s no reason for me to be so upset.  Nothing has changed.  We’ve had a long-time policy of doing small batches of dishes after each meal so they don’t pile up, and (after growing up without one, this still doesn’t come naturally to me) I’ve gotten much better about utilizing the dishwasher.  Laundry has always been “my” chore, but since the hubby no longer works on Saturday mornings, he now helps me put the clothes away.

Apparently, none of that matters.  I’ve still just been pissed.

Then I found an old notebook while going through my desk at work.  Even with the majority of my personal and work life digitized, I’m still a sucker for notebooks.  There’s something so inviting about them, so promising.  They make me feel grand, like each page is my ticket to the perfect life, and all I have to do is pick up my pen.  So with nothing better to do on my lunch break, I wrote “Spend more time living and less time existing” at the top of a page and started jotting down ideas.

The first few were obvious – we’d discussed getting a maid to come in once a month after we move to our new house, and I’ve been toying with the idea of services like PrimePantry for a while.  Sure, they were all valid ideas, but none of them would change the problems that were bothering me.  And then, about four lines in, it hit me.  I’m not sure where the phase came from – some old Pinterest post?  a joke I heard in college? my frustrated brain throwing out a solution when I actually did something other than complain? – but it popped into my head all at once.

Buy more underwear, do less laundry.

I paused.  Ran the thought through my mind again.  Flipped it over and examined all sides for any evidence of tampering or sorcery or other things that you consider when something is maybe just a little too good to be true.  Nothing.

Buy more underwear, do less laundry.

So I wrote it down – the pen didn’t break, the notebook didn’t catch fire – took a picture, and sent it to my husband.  He responded immediately: “OMG yes.  And more dress shirts?”

Fair enough.  I’d been meaning to get him more shirts ever since he started his new job this fall, now was as good a time as any.  Feeling thoroughly out of my funk now, I ran through all the specific reasons laundry has been driving me crazy.  Thanks to our record-breaking lows of the past month, I’ve been wearing my thickest sweaters on repeat, all of which require air-drying at the very least.  Same with our wool socks.  Unless I hire a weekly maid/housekeeper (not happening any time in the near future) or figure out a laundry service (now I have to talk to someone to get my laundry done? and deal with their schedule?), laundry will never be done for good.  But I can get rid of the parts that annoy me the most.

That was when part two of my epiphany hit.  Growing up, laundry was a long task.  We air-dried everything on clothes lines strung up along the porch of our detached garage, so the process included hauling the loads up and down the path, wiping off the clothes lines, shifting the clothes pins so you didn’t end up with creases in your favorite shirt, and keeping an eye out for rain – and we did this every Saturday.

I’d already done away with most of the process, thanks to the in-unit washer and dryer in our apartment.  Why not change the rest?  Just because my parents wash their clothes weekly doesn’t mean it’s a requirement for me.  Duh, honey.

I looked up the brand and type of my sole tumble-dry-low sweater and bought it in three more colors.  (Bonus: it’s sale season for sweaters!)  The hubby picked out some button downs that aren’t blue.  He got more underwear.  I ordered another bra.  I even found some machine-dry camisoles, although I haven’t convinced myself it’s worth the price yet.  Pulling out the drying rack isn’t that bad, after all – as long as I don’t have to find room for half my wardrobe on it.

We’ll see how much the changes help.  For now, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic.

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Kitty wins for enthusiasm at chore time.

Do you have any “more living, less chores” tips?  What has made the biggest difference for you?

 

Lame, Lame, Lame…

In more than one sense of the word!

So I managed to hurt my back. Not doing anything cool. Not even doing anything. No, I hurt my back with a combination of a spare room bed, an old work chair, and lying on the couch with bad posture for too long. Reading. Not biking or running or skiing or climbing – I hurt my back reading. I’m somewhere between disgusted and unimpressed. The hubby is 100% unimpressed, and having a great time giving me crap about it.

It’s been 5 days and the good news is I’m almost back in commission, paying more attention to my posture, and have an exercise ball for my office “chair.” The bad news? We had to cancel our weekend ski trip to Afton Alps and I’m not taking any chances biking outside, given there’s a non-zero chance I’ll hit a patch of ice and end up hurting myself even worse. So my handlebar mitts have been discarded in the corner for the moment and the hubby went off to ski on his own this weekend. Luckily we got a new bike trainer recently (Kickr Snap, more on that later), meaning I haven’t been totally regulated to the couch.

Since the trainer is in front of the TV, I’ve discovered that watching animals attempt to eat/avoid being eaten makes biking for 30 minutes feel easy-peasy by comparison.  Plus, the cat is even more interested in BBC Earth than I am.  He might even be disappointed next week when I head back outside.

 

 

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Kitty watches Life on BBC Earth with me.

 

To Be or to Blog

If you haven’t noticed (and I’m sure all none of you have), I’ve been MIA for a month and a half or so.  Part of this is because my alter ego writes novels and I was wrapping up one of those for publication.  But partly, I’ve been considering something that I’ve wondered about off and on for years: is it better to pull back and reflect, to document and share and preserve?  Or is life – and the type of experiences I write about here – better experienced all in?

In short, do I want to spend time blogging when I could be on the bike trainer or getting gear ready to go skiing or spending a bit of time snuggling with the cat on the couch?  Do I want to step back and look at my life through a literary lens (or a camera lens, as the situation was when I first considered the question) when I could push farther into actually creating new experiences and stories to tell…. someday.

And oh yeah, we’re skiing now.

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Kitty tries to snuggle with the ski gear, too.

After about a week of thought, I realized that all of my posts here have a nice moral and I felt like they had to do so, or else why would I write them?  Well, perhaps because that isn’t always fun, and it isn’t an accurate representation of my life.  Perhaps I can capture the stories while on the go – and if they aren’t beautifully crafted, deep, 700 word essays, at least I can write them on my phone while sitting my a campfire or taking a break someone out in the woods/mountains/back country/middle of REI where I spend way too much money and time.  Or, if nothing else, I can write something in fifteen minutes on the couch while still petting the very-cute-but-very-demanding cat.

Anyhow, that’s the idea, and I’m going to see if it works better than the previous model I was using.  And to bring this up to speed since I wrote last, here’s a few of the bigger things that happened this fall:

  • I got LASIK!  This has been a dream of mine ever since I read Halfway to the Sky (not sponsored, just a great book even if it is for 9-12 year olds).  It’s about a girl who runs away to hike the Appalachian Trail, which I immediately wanted to do.  I’d just gotten contacts, though, and was struggling to put them in when standing in a well-lit, perfectly clean bathroom.  The idea of spending 6 months on the AT with contacts?  Impossible!  I suppose this means I need to start planning a backpacking trip.20181021_090222
  • The hubby completed a 150 mile gravel ultra (his first – read his guest post here).  It screwed his knee up pretty badly, so between that and my instructions to keep all dust out of my newly 20/20 eyes, we cut back on the biking quite a bit.
  • I ran two 5k’s and had fun even though I didn’t exactly train.
  • We started biking again, slowly.  Turns out that ski helmets are pretty awesome for biking in the cold!
  • We started skiing (or rather, I skied and hubby snowboarded).  Then the hubby hurt himself on 2/2 snowboarding trips (collarbone and ribs, luckily nothing broken!  We’re pretty sure the ribs were only bruised, not cracked…)  Thanks to another lovely REI garage sale, hubby picked up a pair of ski boots at a great price, we found him some skis online, and he’s made it down the black run at the closest ski hill already.  *For those of you who ski in Iowa, a black run here is about the equivalent of a steep green run on an actual mountain.  Maybe a blue.
  • I think we may have corrupted hubby’s little brother and his girlfriend.  We have skiing buddies now!

That’s all for now, folks.  Hopefully I’ll have more to share soon!

Gear Review – MSR Hubba Hubba

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The hubby and I bought a tent at the last REI garage sale, which meant that of course we had to try it out somewhere other than our living room. It’s hard to tell how a tent holds up in the wind when there are four nice walls surrounding it, after all – and since we got the tent for backpacking/adventuring, knowing how it performs ahead of a big trip is a must.

Even if that means purposely going out and camping in the rain.

We picked Saturday night for our test run and decided we’d stick with it even when the sunny-and-seventies weather of the initial plan turned into rainy-with-a-high-of-46. After all, we reasoned, better to find any leaks now when we’d be less than half an hour from home. It would be a fairly simple matter to throw everything in the Subaru, admit defeat, and spend the rest of the night in our bed. I’d also picked up a sleeping bag liner at the REI garage sale and was interested to see if it would make my sleeping bag any warmer. But I digress.

Our tent is the MSR Hubba Hubba NX, which has 4.6/5 stars on the REI website (link here) but was returned because it “didn’t perform as expected” according to the tag at the garage sale. (This might be a good time to mention that this post is not sponsored by REI, or anyone else for that matter.) Having experienced several situations where an item was returned more due to user error or unrealistic expectations than any actual defect, the hubby and I were hopeful that would be the case with the tent.

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Our previous tent was a Kelty Teton 4, and the first things we noticed were differences between the tents. The Hubba Hubba is considerably lighter at only 3 lb 7 oz (compared to 7 lb 8 oz) and packs MUCH easier. When we’ve used our backpacks in the past, the Teton took up half of A’s pack, if not more.  This time, we were able to do a test run of our packing list and backpacks as well, since the tent was small and light enough that everything we needed could feasibly fit in the backpacks.  We did end up bringing several “extras” (marshmallows, anyone?) but broke those out into a separate cooler.  In the event of a real backpacking trip, anything in the cooler would stay behind and we now know our bags can take everything we need for an overnight trip.  As it was, loading up the car to head out was still a breeze.

It was misting when we got to the campsite, with actual rain threatening.  Luckily, the tent was easy to put up.  One of the other tents we looked at recently had poles that need to go on a specific end, even though they look very similar.  It confused us on a sunny morning when we had all the time in the world.  In the rain, hurrying to get the rain fly on, I was very glad for the Hubba Hubba’s symmetrical design and overall ease of setup.  It uses a single main pole with V’s on each end, and a short pole in the center to hold out the top of the tent.  The poles are attached with clips, so they do not have to be slid through sleeves.  We had the tent set up in no time, and secured the rain fly even faster, thanks to color-coded straps that make it easy to align.

20180929_171953We dumped our bags under the vestibules – one on each side, so the bags both fit, another perk – and A started what would turn into a two-and-a-half hour ordeal of starting a fire with damp wood while I set up the interior of the tent.  The Hubba Hubba is the same width for its entire length, which made it easy to fit both of our sleeping pads, although there was no extra room on the sides.  Our pads are both 21″ wide – deluxe when they were bought in the late 80’s, but nothing fancy now – and I was glad they weren’t wider.  We did have a bit of extra space lengthwise where we ended up storing our headlamps and water bottles for easy access overnight.

With setup done quickly, we had plenty of time to make supper (Ramen bombs are amazing on a cold, wet day – I’ll make another post on those later), scavenge the surrounding woods for some partially dry wood, and roast marshmallows when the fire caught at long last.  It was still misting when we climbed into our sleeping bags to give the tent its actual test.

I had wondered if I would miss the additional elbow room in our 4-person tent, but if anything I liked the smaller setup more.  With the sleeping pads pushed together, there was nowhere for them to slide.  The smaller space also stayed remarkably warmer through the night – warm enough that I tossed aside the extra blanket I usually use with my sleeping bag on chilly nights.  For someone who is perpetually cold, being too warm on a 40 degree night was an exciting novelty, not to mention a very good sign for future backpacking trips.  If I don’t need to bring an extra blanket, no matter how much it packs down, I have room for something that would have been sacrificed before.

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Drying Central Station – Spot the Kitty

Pack-up the next morning was easy as well.  The Hubba Hubba has a bag design I haven’t seen before.  It opens lengthwise instead of at the top, meaning the tent and rain cover can be folded up and laid in the bag.  The pole bag is then placed in the middle, and a drawstring tightens the bag down before two straps latch over the opening.  Playing around with this feature beforehand, I discovered that the Hubba Hubba can be compressed much more than the Kelty could without the use of a different stuff sack.  It also alleviated one of my pet peeves – the tent ballooning with stuffed air when being put away.  Of course, we had to unpack everything when we got home and the living room turned into Drying Station Central; luckily the cat got a kick out of this.

While a campground in Iowa may not push the Hubba Hubba to its limits, I’m happy with how it performed and excited to use it on more adventures.  Maybe next time we’ll even get some sunshine!

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Blood and Backpacking

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Heading out for an overnight in Grand Staircase-Escalante

I’m in the early stages of planning a trip to Moab, and amidst looking up the best rides and climbs and campsites, I’ve started thinking about my last trip to Utah.  I went with a group through my college’s Outdoor Recreation program, and while my husband went on the Moab trip, I picked Grand Staircase-Escalante.

We spent most of the trip doing day hikes, but there was one overnight backpacking trip on the itinerary, and I looked forward to it all week.  So, of course, I got my period when we were about 45 minutes from the van – where I had left all of my feminine products.  The most frustrating part was that I hadn’t forgotten my period.  I had a full supply of items in my larger bag that we were leaving steadily behind us.  No, what really annoyed me was that my period was a full week early.

One of the female trip leaders explained this wasn’t uncommon, given that I had been considerably more active than usual in the last several days.  Another trip participant offered to share her tampons, since her period was almost over.  The rest of the women commiserated, and I continued on thoroughly embarrassed but wiser.  Problem solved.

Well, mostly.

Grandpa and the Panther
Illustration by Garth Williams for Little House in the Big Woods

I should mention that for a good portion of my life I’ve had an unreasonable but persistent fear of mountain lions.  I have a theory it started thanks to the Laura Ingalls Wilder story and accompanying image of Grandpa and the Panther.  Whatever the reason, the fear was still persistent that week in the Utah desert – manageable most of the time, but almost debilitating when circumstances aligned correctly.

We camped that night in a creek valley between two cliffs.  A small stream bordered our campsite on one side, providing both a water source and a picturesque feel, and I fell asleep listening to it gurgling over rocks on its way to the larger stream just east of our site.

When I awoke several hours later to a feeling I usually think of as “I needed a new tampon a freaking hour ago” the sound of the creek was gone.  Our lovely valley was now a wind tunnel, and as I crawled out from between the other two girls in the tent to deal with the situation, it shook the trees and tents relentlessly, creating enough of a racket that I couldn’t hear the stream until I was kneeling directly beside it to wash up.

Maybe it was the fact that I was crouched down and by necessity focused on my hands rather than the surroundings.  Maybe the wind lifting the hair off my neck as I bent over reminded me that I was perfectly positioned to be attacked from the trees above.  Maybe it was just the thought that blood attracts predators and I’d come out here thanks to an abundance of the damn liquid.  Whatever the reason, I found myself frozen with my hands in the icy water of the stream, cursing the trick of fate that had made me a girl and therefore led directly to his moment.  Mountain lions lurked in every corner of my mind, projecting themselves onto the surrounding landscape and drawing steadily closer.

They say you don’t know what you can do until you don’t have a choice, and as I sat frozen by the stream in the blustery darkness, I realized there were essentially two options in front of me.  I could remain terrified and useless for the five or so hours that remained of the night, waiting for the imaginary mountain lions to descend, or I could wring out my underwear, wash my hands, and go back to bed.  Put like that, the choice was so simple it seemed ludicrous.

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Making M&M Pancakes

By dawn, the wind had died down and the campsite, bathed in the early morning light, reverted back to picturesque and welcoming.  We made M&M pancakes for breakfast, then packed up and headed on to the next adventure, which involved hiking through a thigh-high stream.  Yesterday, the idea had seemed daunting, even overwhelming.  On the heels of my midnight revelation, it was easy to break down into two simple paths: go forward with the rest of the group, or go back alone.  And I wasn’t about to be left behind.

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Our lovely/terrifying campsite