TrainerRoad post #2

I’ve completed the second and third rides on my TrainerRoad training plan.

The good news: I got my own trainer and the hubby and I can ride side-by-side now!

The bad news: I spend the first half of my hour ride on Thursday night seriously pissed off at the setup.

In all honestly, I doubt I did the calibration correctly. Since the hubby started using both the trainer and TrainerRoad before me, I had him help with setup and I was able to get by with less-than-stellar prep. It’s one of those situations I’ve been noticing recently, where I have taught myself to rely on him and it ends up biting me in the butt. Oops.

I also didn’t have a cadence sensor for the ride on Thursday. I’d ordered one, since biking at the same time makes it hard to share the one we already have, but it still hadn’t arrived. I’m pretty sure these two items were the cause of my main frustration, and while they’re both very fixable, it didn’t help my mood for Thursday.

So, what was the problem? Remember my comment in my previous post that I was spinning at about half the recommended cadence on my first ride? Having noticed the deficiency, I didn’t like the idea of returning to a bad habit. However, in order to bring my power down to the correct level when I was recovering between intervals, I had to slow my cadence considerably. Even shifting to a lower gear didn’t help. Take a look at the graph below. The blue is the target power output and the yellow line is what I actually achieved. Not exactly on-target.

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After the disaster of a warm-up and the first recovery period, I gritted my teeth and decided I’d just have to deal with the slow cadence. Unfortunately, that didn’t work well either. Every time I lowered the cadence enough to match the target power, TrainerRoad would pause the workout with an infuriating message: “pedal to resume.”

Yes, thank you for the note. That’s a great idea. Oh, wait, I AM PEDALING.

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The same problem occurred after the five-second sprints. Since I almost doubled my power output during these intervals, the subsequent spin-down left the back wheel and trainer spinning at high RPMs. Without the cadence sensor, TrainerRoad had no way to tell if I actually was pedaling, or if I had simply decided to “coast.” Cue yet another “workout paused, pedal to resume” message.

Luckily this problem only lasted for a few seconds after each interval, but it still frustrated me enough to take any enjoyment out of the workout. I finished the hour feeling more relieved to be done than accomplished.

Amazon reported that my cadence sensor wouldn’t be here until after my Saturday ride, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the package waiting for me after work on Friday. I calibrated the trainer on the TrainerRoad and the Wahoo apps, and spent some time confirming that all of my devices were labeled “Jen’s” in the TrainerRoad app. The last thing I wanted was to end up using the data from the hubby’s heart rate monitor or cadence sensor!

With all of the technology set up, I still had to face one more big challenge: the third ride every week on this training plan is an hour and a half – which is not only the longest I’d ever been on a trainer, but longer than my average trainer session by, oh, about an hour. Yikes.

Screenshot_20190216-162440.jpgThanks to the improved set-up, Saturday’s experience was similar to my first ride, and I got through a lot of it by focusing on the tips and exercises in the app.  Still, the ride was composed of five ten-minute intervals just below my FTP, and by the last one I really didn’t give a damn about engaging extra muscle groups by kicking through the top-stroke.  I just wanted to collapse on the couch with the cat, who clearly thought 90 minutes was the perfect amount of time for a nap.

Finally, blissfully, it was done.  It had been a week of milestones: first official training plan, longest trainer ride, first ride on my own trainer, and the first time setting up my own equipment totally on my own. There had been hard parts, of the frustrating, painful, and exhausting categories, but as of this moment, all of those have only made me want to push harder, not give up.

We’ll see what next week brings. Right now, though, I’m wondering if I might be tougher than I think.

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Kitty’s hour and a half looked a bit different than mine.

Valentine’s Our Way

I hope you had a lovely 14th of February, however you spent it and whomever you were with.

The hubby and I ended up celebrating last night, which isn’t something we always do. But some other plans got canceled and we’ve been meaning to go on a date for a while, so we took advantage of the open evening and decided to check out Dumpling Darling, a new restaurant not far from us.

Patience is a virtue I only sometimes possess, so I loved that we weren’t fighting the Valentine’s crowds.  We got a dumpling flight, which let us sample all their steamed dumplings.  To my surprise, my favorite was the kimchi dumpling, although all of them were delicious.  We debated trying the dessert dumplings, but in the end decided in favor of Molly’s Cupcakes, which is right across the street. The hubby got a German chocolate cupcake; I had a peach cobbler one.  Since the dumplings were not particularly filling, it was the perfect end to the meal.

All other things aside, I’m in love with those cupcakes. Heavenly.

It we’d stopped here, it might have gone down as our most traditional Valentine’s Day in years. We’d gone to dinner early, though, and had time to kill.  Our post-cupcake destination is a place we love dearly, but very few people would consider romantic: REI.  We left with a similarly-beloved-but-not-romantic present for me: my own Wahoo Kickr Snap bike trainer.

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I was just a little excited.

Of course, you could argue that the second Kickr Snap is an instrument for marital felicity.  No more do the hubby and I have to argue over who gets the trainer first; like toddlers, it seems that we only want to use it when the other one is already planning on doing so, and we have literally raced each other to get our leg over the bike on occasion.  How many people can say they were gifted the end to a recurring argument for Valentine’s Day?

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We rearranged the living room last night to accommodate both trainers, where they have displaced our couch and will stay until we move in a couple weeks – I can’t wait to have space for both trainers AND the couch!  And so, Valentine’s Day evening found us both pedaling away, headphones in and not particularly pleased with each other.  (I didn’t have the trainer set up to my satisfaction and was not impressed with the subsequent workout.  In turn, the hubby was unimpressed with me.  I’m going to be magnanimous and say we both had a point.)

It’s an evening that would have horrified several of my girlfriends, and I can only hope they spent their Valentine’s Day in a way that brought them joy.  That said, it’s no less fair to put down my unconventional enjoyment than it would be to demean a day filled with flowers and chocolates and wine.

True love is about being yourself, about understanding each other, and about finding ways to make each other happy.  Tonight, our love was an hour sweating four feet apart from each other and an order to stop complaining.  And honestly, I might appreciate that even more than cupcakes.

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Cool down!  Kitty wants to know why it’s been a full hour since we pet him.

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.

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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Spotted Gravel Post Race Report

Note: This is a guest post by Jen’s husband, who is most likely cooler and definitely tougher than she is. Also, potentially insane. For proof of all three claims, keep reading.

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I managed a smile despite the cold

Doing an after race report seems to be what the cool kids are doing. They are also part of what helped me mentally prepare for the ultra. So, here is my entry.

Short Version: It was wet and cold. I brought more clothing than I thought I would need and used all three changes of socks. My knee stopped working at mile 120, ibuprofen revived it and I finished.

I started my gravel riding career with the Spotted Horse. Yes, started with it. Why? I wish I knew. Going into this ride I knew it was going to be hard, I had read the other reports and was well aware of the course creation preferences of one Sarah Cooper – a name I had to look up because I kept seeing it. Her course designs are BRUTAL.

The morning started okay. By okay I mean wet, rainy and dark, all of which was to be expected. The starting temperature was around 54 degrees, the high was around 54 degrees and the low was around 48 degrees. So I figured if you planned well you wouldn’t need a change of clothes the whole day. But just in case I brought two changes of socks and a change of gloves. I knew going into this that I was over-preparing compared to some people who can apparently bike 150 miles on two water bottles and a Snickers bar in 10 hours. Thankfully, I did not think that would be me and therefore planned accordingly.

6:00 am: Mile 0 – Cold but not yet wet. It was dark but everything is fully charged so I should be good for a few hours. I knew from biking to work in the morning that the sun comes up around 7. Great, one hour of gross and we should be good. Oh yeah, and it was raining and 54 degrees. Not quite enough to be dangerous, just annoying.

7:00 am: Mile 11 – The sun came out! Well, the clouds started to brighten up enough that I could turn my lights down and then eventually off. The rain has slowed to a heavy drizzle by then, but still isn’t fun. In fact, I still don’t know where the fun was supposed to start . I talked to a lady named Michelle and she said a “couple good hundred mile days” is usually adequate training. Yeah, I should have done that, I guess. She also asked what kind of navigation I’m using – Garmin, Yahoo? Of course, only the best – a sheet of paper I had written on. But it is waterproof paper, so there’s that.

7:15 am (approx) – first bike rider broke her derailleur. On the gravel road. Katherine, how?

8:00 am: Mile 22 – Making decent pace. The goal was 10 mph and I’m making about 11-12. The riders have started to get more spread out and the tail lights and the headlights that I can see get thinner.

9:00 am: Mile 33 – cold, wet and miserable. I was unsure if the shoe covers are just cold or if water has been getting into the cover. Turns out, water had been getting in, likely from my leggings dripping down to my shoes. I HATE wet feet and only a few hours in, that’s what I had to deal with.

9-12 pm: Miles 30-60 – Uneventful for the most part. I settled into a rhythm. People were pulling further ahead and falling further behind the whole time. Eventually I ended up leap-frogging with the same 4 people as either they or I stop. It was comforting. I didn’t know them even in the slightest but I knew they like biking and are out of their minds, so that was comfort enough for me.

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This was supposed to be funny. It scares me.

I made one bigger stop around mile 50 or so to wring out my socks and my gloves. My right foot had gone so cold that I couldn’t feel my toes moving. At that point I still considered that something worth stopping for. The main reason was my right hand had gotten so cold that shifting was no longer possible. Since I couldn’t feel the level or the clicks or really my fingers at all it because a not fun game of “pick a random gear”. After failing to climb a hill due to this, I called it and finally stopped.

12 pm: Mile 57 (approx) – first group of volunteers. I can not thank them enough for being out there with candy and kindness.

12 pm: Mile 60 – First check point, in the form of a convenience store. I bought four candy bars, a gallon of water and a box of ten trash bags. Yes, trash bags, because if it rained again and if I got even more wet and cold it would have been the end of the day for me. So, trash bags to cover the cold parts. I took three and stuffed them into my bag, gave some other guy one and then handed the box the volunteers who appeared rather perplexed at the gift.

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Also, as I was about to leave some guy in a white van showed up, started yelling at us and the volunteers lost their mind and ran over to van. I turned around to see them handing this guy a sign to take his picture. In the moment this was the funniest thing on earth. Looking back at it – still funny, how did they even make that sign? If you haven’t figured it out, this guy was with the volunteers, doing what he does. Which is apparent drive a white van and yell at people, then hand out candy. Very nice guy.

HEADS UP – THIS IS WHERE IT GETS UGLY

Preface – I knew of the devious course designs by Sarah in the past. Up to this point I had thought “Hey, this isn’t so bad. Maybe everyone is just pushing harder and/or likes to complain.” Oh, I was wrong. So, so wrong. I don’t remember how many hills there were exactly, but this is the best I can do.

12:30 pm: Mile 65 – the mud began. The nice gravel road took a left hand turn to a Level B road, which is a soaking wet clay mud road for those of you that aren’t familiar with the term. So I started walking. After the crest of the hill I rode down the back side past a lady (Michelle) who was in the middle of the “road” inspecting her bike. She had broken a derailleur. I lost track of the next couple hours because we – me and the other people near me – traveled a whopping 5 miles in two hours.

We got to the top of the second mud hill and find ride-able gravel! I rode it another quarter mile or so, very excited, and then crested another hill to find MORE MUD. This mud you couldn’t even walk around because the design of the road. I made it about 40 feet and got stuck. Yes, stuck. My bike was nearly too heavy to lift, my shoe covers had nearly been ripped off the front of my shoes and I was getting barely any traction. At this point I gave up on the shoe covers. My shoes were wet; the covers were doing nothing. By now the two new friends I’d made had caught up with me. I learned something new here – my tires absolutely love picking up mud. Their bikes were perfectly clean and mine looked like I just dug it out of creek bed. Whatever. We kept walking.

Then the drone came. Yeah, someone had a brought a drone to document our misery and the feeling was just one of utter defeat. But we kept trucking on. Surely there wouldn’t be the much mud. Right. I don’t remember for sure if it was one more hill or two, but there was more.

After this section of mud there was a nice lady who happily greeted us with “Hello! Welcome to the halfway point! I have some water to clean off your chain if you need and a scraper to clean off the mud. The next checkpoint is three miles ahead on gravel.” Well, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to lighten my bike by twenty pounds of mud. Now I’m not sure if she said she was sure there were no more B roads or if she said she knew there weren’t anymore till the checkpoint, but….

SHE LIED EITHER WAY. This lady was like an actor in a haunted house: planted there to give misdirection and break your soul. Now, if this was planned out, props to the coordinators for making the most soul crushing stop in the middle of the worst mud section in the middle of the worst gravel ride. Seriously, even if this was an accident – and given her peppy demeanor I suspect not – this is why Spotted Gravel has the reputation it does. It’s made to break your soul and this nice lady with a camera was PERFECT for that.

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So much mud

So, after cleaning my bike, talking to the nice lady and climbing up a hill, what do I find?

MORE MUD. MUD AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE. HOW MUCH MUD COULD IOWA POSSIBLY HAVE?

It was at least two big hills of mud, if not three, which was worse. You get to the top only to see someone else on pushing up the next hill. The group of three other people that I was with chat along the way and that made it bearable for me. That section knocked out 3 people that I could see, which was only about 10 people total. Finally we got off the trail, and cleaned off our bikes. I have to use my backup water for cleaning as it was either that or risk ending up with a broken derailleur. The guy I was with handed me his mud spatula as he was going to be done at the next checkpoint. Given his recent knee replacement and hesitation in getting another one, I found that understandable. I got on my bike and my watch went off as it does every five miles. That five mile stretch took us 2 hours and 3 minutes. My brain could barely fathom this – I routinely ride five miles in around twenty minutes.

Check point 2 was cruelly placed right after this final section. Many people didn’t make it past this checkpoint and I’d be hard pressed to blame them. I stocked up on cookies and toffee, checked my tire pressure and headed out. Only 70 more miles to go to the finish, and 40 to the next gas station – Casey’s!

4-7 pm: Miles 80-120 – These mile weren’t too bad actually. I was beginning to get sick of Gu packet and candy bars. I would choke another Gu packet down just so I had enough mental clarity to navigate. I saw a hawk chase down a deer. A truck pass what seemed like a foot away from me at 55+ mph. Went through a SUPER tiny town in which all the vehicles appeared to be parked outside the church. The sun went down. My left knee started to feel strange. Good times. 5 miles or so before the Casey’s my water bag ran out. I had another liter in my back up bag, but since I had also blown through my emergency water bottle cleaning mud that liter was now my emergency supply. A half hour with no water isn’t yet an emergency when it’s cold and wet. By this point the Gu packets that I was having every 45 minutes were starting to sound like eating dog feces. I kept choking down whatever I could reach – snickers, Reeses bars, toffee, a cookie, but by this time I wanted anything but sugar. Luckily for me my favorite pizza place in the whole world was coming up.

I didn’t stay long at the last stop. A piece of Casey’s pizza, a gallon of water, gloves and new socks with fashionable trash bags over them and we were ready to go. Someone once told me that pizza might be bad on a bike ride this long. After biking all day, I didn’t care. I needed calories and wasn’t entirely sure I could have another *sweet thing*. After cooling down inside, the cold hit hard. The uncontrollable shaking was concerning so I threw on my arm warmers hoping I would stop shaking enough to warm up again. It took a few miles, but I got there.

7-11 pm: Miles 120-150

I made my way out of town, hoping to make good time on the remaining 30 miles. Maybe I could push it a little harder and get back a little earlier than I thought.

OH, AND THEN MY LEFT KNEE JUST KIND OF STOPPED WORKING.

The knee was good until I had made my way out of town and into the pitch black of the Iowa countryside. Some light reflected off the low clouds, but that was hardly a comfort. Then the knee become increasingly painful to move until eventually I was trying to pedal one-footed and then finally just limping myself and my bike up a hill. I made a quick call to my wife to tell her I thought I was done, and she reminded me of the ibuprofen I had in my med kit. Now, I don’t use ibuprofen except in extreme circumstances, so this was a big deal – and it’s also for this reason that I don’t use it liberally. Miraculously, it worked, and it worked well. Yeah, the knee hurt, but I could keep going. In the last ten miles it started raining again but I could not have cared less by then.

My main tail light died – darn. My main headlight died – oh well, I have a backup. And then, finally, I made it to the finish line!

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There she is! Sarah Cooper herself. I’ve heard she doesn’t acknowledge anyone who hasn’t biked 100 miles or more that day, no word on how true that is.

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By the numbers:

17 hours, 7,300 calories, 650 training miles on my bike, 147 miles day of, 104 people signed up, 88 expected to show up, 56 started, 26 finished, one medal.

Why? I’m still not entirely sure.

The Magic of Confidence in Mountain Biking

It’s amazing the difference that five years can make – and I don’t mean the improvements that come from five years of constant practice.  Five years ago, my husband (A) discovered that mountain biking existed in Iowa and I became his (very reluctant) biking partner by default.  To my embarrassment, I don’t think I made it through a single ride in 2012 without either screaming, cussing, getting mad, or crying, and at it was usually a combination of those. Would you believe that A wasn’t very fond of riding with me? Surprising, right? And just as “surprising” – mountain biking was about as low on my fun scale as going to the dentist.

So, when A quit biking in college, I wasn’t exactly heartbroken, and when he picked it up again this spring I approached the entire idea with trepidation. I certainly never thought I’d suggest venturing out into 95 degree woods and chasing him up hills for my Friday night activity.

And yes, you guessed it – that’s exactly what I did multiple times this summer. Part of it I considered good training for the two mountain bike races I (voluntarily) signed up for. The other part was just fun.

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Part of the difference is obvious, physical changes I can point to and quantify. I’m riding A’s 2012 Trek Cobia now, complete with front suspension, 29″ tires, and grips that I adore. Five years ago, I was on a fully rigid Trek at least as old as I was – and looking back at the photos, I’m pretty sure the frame was too big for me. I’ve ran a half marathon, two 10k’s, and enough 5k’s to lose count; in 2012 I simply didn’t believe I could run farther than a mile. Of course long rides and steep climbs are easier now!

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But to attribute my improvement to better gear and stronger legs ignores a great deal of other things that have happened in the interim. College meant that work was either done or it wasn’t, no one cared to hear your excuse. I’ve gone through about 26 interviews, three internships, and now work in a field where you could die by stepping in the wrong place at the wrong time. My company could lose thousands of dollars on a contract if I don’t pay proper attention to details. (I’m still occasionally blown away when I stop to consider how much I could mess up.) In the world where I live now, throwing up my hands and screaming is simply not an option.

As often occurs in life, I rarely have a clear picture of just what has changed or how far I’ve come because the shifts are so gradual.  If I’d kept biking for those five years, I undoubtedly would have improved.  But then I never would have gotten on the bike remembering torture, and instead experienced magic.  And I very much doubt I would have realized that it is not the changes in my body, but those in my mind, that truly made the difference.

I still can’t keep up with the hubby unless he lets me, and I may never be able to.  But the photo above was taken in the exact location where I crashed, screaming, into a ditch on my last ride in 2012 – and this time I was laughing from the exhilaration, going fast enough that A’s camera didn’t quite have time to focus.

It’s been cold and rainy here recently, and my focus is turning towards what I can do indoors through the winter.  But this year, there is no sigh of relief that my reprieve has finally arrived.  No, this time, I’m already getting excited for what next year can bring.

Running Revelations

I went for a run a couple days ago.  This is notable only because it was my first run in about two months, which meant that a) I had forgotten just how much some muscles hurt

, and b) I wasn’t in nearly as good of running shape as I would have liked.  And since I’ve spent the summer biking, the entire experience felt excruciatingly slow by comparison.

Distance running and I have a rocky relationship.  I absolutely refused to run long distance (or really anything longer than 200m) until college and then only two or three miles for several more years.  Last year I ran a half marathon, mainly to prove to myself that I could do it.  It was surprisingly fun – at least the race itself was – but this year, I started the summer deciding that instead of going longer, I would go faster.  Care to imagine how that went?

20170924_115143All of that annoyance came back as I slogged my way along my shortest running route.  I knew I’d chosen to run, knew

it was insane to expect a good pace on the first day back, and continued to berate myself all the same.

And then, perhaps helped along by reaching the high point of the run and starting back down in relief, something snapped into place.  It always hurt when I ran.  My calves ached as they warmed up, my feet hurt after a few miles on hot pavement, my thighs and sides and shoulders all took a turn when I pushed my mileage.  Never once had I leaned into that pain, embraced it and made it part of me and pushed on.  Sure, I’d finish the run.  But stick to the pace I wanted until I literally couldn’t put one foot in front of the other?  Stick to the pace to the point of creating more pain?  Nope.

There’s a quote I love and use frequently when I have too many things going on.  Incidentally, it comes from an author who’s audio books got me through a lot of miles at the end of my half marathon training: “Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.” (Quote and my hours of distraction are thanks to Laura Vanderkam.)

After trying to keep up with my husband over countless miles of bike trails for three months, I knew perfectly well that I could push through pain, and my improving biking times were clear proof that it yielded results.  But run faster?  Nah.  I just wasn’t a distance runner.

Much like not having time, the problem wasn’t a lack of ability – it was a lack of effort.

That changed the feel of the run a bit.  Instead of bemoaning the fact that I’d never be the runner I dreamed about, the one who effortlessly ran 25-minute 5k’s as a matter of rote, I spent the next mile trying to decide what it really was that I wanted from running.  Did I want Strava times to brag about, which meant I needed to embrace the pain and change my entire idea of training?  Or was it a workout I could fit in given a pair of tennis shoes and half an hour?  If the latter, I needed to learn to be a heck of a lot nicer to myself.

As fate would have it, I ran into an old friend in the last stretch and stopped to talk, given a rest just when I stopped looking for one.  The decision will take longer, and I’m starting to think it might fluctuate for as long as I run.  Somehow, though, knowing that how I run is up to me makes everything less stressful.

Maybe I’ll go for another run this weekend.

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