Sunday, December 11, 2011

From race to race and beyond

Everyone always talks about the post-race comedown. I wonder if the better the race, the harder the comedown. I experienced a pretty epic comedown this week. From sky high this time last week, to wanting to quit by Thursday. I'll admit that I can be a little melodramatic at times(!), but that doesn't really change how I was feeling on Thursday. A few things contributed to the crash, which are irrelevant for the purposes of this blog post, but I can honestly say that I spent some good quality time on Thursday thinking about what on earth I wanted out of cycling, and if this was the best I could ever be, maybe I should refocus my priorities and get back to the reality of my non-cycling life.

But I let Brad talk me into coming along for the Norman (the Friday morning Vikings ride for those not in the known) and I had a lot of fun. Nothing much to write about, other than the fact that it was a really fun ride with some really top people, which just put me in a much better mood / frame of mind re cycling. And as I'd already entered the Eurobodalla interclub (which comprised a 50km handicap race on the Saturday and a criterium on the Sunday) I headed down the coast on Saturday morning for a weekend of coast fun, with a bit of bike racing interspersed.

Even though I knew I was going to race at the interclub, I somehow thought it was going to be a nice gentle race down the coast (mixed up with sun, fun and beach-time relaxation with the crew and my family). I know "race" and "gentle" are pretty much mutually exclusive, but in my head I think I had taken a break from racing last Sunday somewhere towards the top of Mt Hotham. So no one was more surprised than me to find that I'd been put in a pretty harsh handicap (known as Block or Chopping Block). I thought all the girls would have been put in the same group, but somehow I found myself the only girl in a group of super fit boys in the second last group away, 20 minutes behind the first group to leave (and 5 minutes behind Brad, Dees and Rob, who I usually train with and are much the same speed as me).

I didn't whinge to the race organisers about my handicap, but I certainly whinged to everyone else I knew (sorry team!). But I was strangely complimented by the fact that the organisers had bothered to look up the results of Bright and think it was worthy of a hard handicapping, which somehow appeased part of my post-Bright comedown issues. That said, I was worried that I was way out of my depth, so I decided that my goal was basically to stay with the group as long as possible, and if I felt OK, to try and do some work with the group. As with all handicaps a further goal was not to get caught by the bunch starting after mine (which was Scratch (the last bunch starting for those not familiar with the terms) and was made up of the Suzuki and Ollo Industries boys and even a Jayco rider or two!).

As we were waiting at the start line, we started to witness the generous handicaps to the earlier groups - there were groups over halfway through their first lap (the course comprised 3 laps of a relatively hilly 17km course) before we'd even started. But then we were off. And gee we were off! The boys hit it very hard from the start, averaging 42kph for the first 5km. My heartrate spiked pretty early because of this and I really started to feel the pace during the second and third 5km sections. I pulled some turns with the boys for the first 10km, but had to sit back for the third 5kms as I was in a world of pain and doing everything I could to hold the wheel in front and get enough oxygen in to keep upright. An added complication of the course was the various hot-dog turns. As noted in previous posts, I'm a bit challenged when it comes to u-turns, and I ended up taking each turn very wide, which meant I lost a lot of places and had to accelerate hard out of each turn around to catch back on again, which really saps your energy. Lesson learnt for me re the importance of practising hot-dog turns now as I don't really want to have to go through that everytime I need to turn a bike around in a race again in the future.

As the race progressed, it became obvious that we'd gone out too hard too early, and there were limited riders in our group that had the fitness to keep working at the pace that had been set. There was one rider in the bunch that took on the "bunch captain" role, and did his best to keep it under control, but I think the bunch generally didn't have the skill / fitness to ride the way he intended so we weren't working together as well as we should have. I did a fair bit of work for the group on the front (probably more than was expected from me being the only girl in the group), but I found it hard to control the pace on the front as I'd end up surging a bit (and was tapped on the bum by the bunch captain and unequivocally told this mid-race!). I think this was lack of experience from me (it was only my third handicap), but also lack of confidence in my speed: I was so convinced that I was the slowest rider in the group that I honestly thought I'd have to keep pushing the pace even when rolling the lead just to keep the pace steady. I'll try to chill a bit in that regard in future. :-)

We started to pick up some riders that had dropped off earlier bunches, and while we were closing on the bunch that started 5 minutes before us, we never really got close to them. At about the 47km mark, we saw the bunch in front coming back the other way and knew it was game over. A few of us in our group sat up for a bit at that point and recovered to the last turn around, before getting back to business of getting the race over and done with as quickly as possible. I was pretty pleased to get to the finish line and hear that Brad had claimed 2nd overall, and Dees 2nd female, just less than a minute before my bunch. Top work VCC!!

As for me, I was pretty stoked that I'd managed to hold onto my bunch for the whole race. Average speed was 36.5kph for 52km with 605m elevation and I sure worked for it. Strangely my legs didn't hurt after the race, but my pectorals sure did for gripping onto my drops for dear life for nearly an hour and a half and not wanting to let go of the wheel in front of me. Who would have thought you could get such a good upper body workout from cycling. :-)

The next part of the interclub was the crit this morning. The organisers ran separate women's and men's grades, which was great, but the turnout from the ladies was a little disappointing, with approx 7 riders in WB and only 5 in WA. I quite enjoyed watching the WB crit, which kicked the morning off. Tegan, Ches and Ange put on an excellent demonstration of Valkyrie / Siren domination (Tegs took out the win) and it was awesome to see how far they've all come since the start of the Valkyries not so long ago. Nice work ladies!

My own crit was rather uneventful: I spent a fair bit of time on the front for the first part of the race, testing my legs and the girls in my grade. I could tell which girls would be my biggest threats from the first lap and knew my best tactic was to go for a breakaway as I didn't think I'd be able to outsprint them. I put in a few little sprints out of the only corner on the course to see how they'd react, and decided that my tactic would be to try and go clear when I saw 2 laps to go. Stupidly, I jumped when I saw the sign saying 3 laps to go, not 2. But I got a good gap on the girls, and while I wasn't increasing my lead over the first 1.5 laps of the 3 laps to go, I was keeping them at the same distance so thought I might just get away with it. The only problem was that I had to slow down significantly with 1.5 laps to go as a truck was reversing into a driveway (the crit was held in the industrial estate in Moruya). I slammed the brakes on, and weaved around the front of the truck, but my advantage over the other girls was significantly whittled away because of that. And I still had a lap and a half to go! I dug deep (so deep in fact that I hit a new max heartrate!) and managed to hold on for the remaining lap and a half to claim 1st place. Phew! I was quite pleased given that I don't usually like a crit.

So somehow I've gone from sky high last weekend to bottoming out on Thursday to re-inspired for more racing this weekend. I'm really glad I got back on the racing horse (even if it was somewhat harder than I really wanted) this weekend as I've tapped back into my enthusiasm / love for the bike / love for racing in general. I'm still not quite sure what I'll target next race-wise, but I know that whatever I end up targeting, I'll have a great group of friends to train and race with. And that's (more than) half the fun. Thanks team!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tour of Bright: Mission Accomplished

I spent 20 weeks training for this tour, and now it's done, and done far better than I ever could have hoped. Here's an unfortunately verbose (sorry peeps - I just have a chronic condition where I always have too much to say) race report on what happened in the WB grade of the Tour of Bright (ToB) on the weekend just gone.

Stage 1: The Gaps Loop
Stage 1 was a 91km ride, which was over generally flat-undulating terrain, but marked with a Category 2 climb halfway through the ride, and then an uphill Category 1 climb to finish the stage. There were also 2 sprints during the course: one at the 10km mark and the other at the 77km mark.

My goal for Stage 1 was to basically win the Queen of the Mountains (QOMs) points, but also try and put some time on the other girls to get a time advantage going into the subsequent stages. Deciana was also going for the sprint points for this stage. I wasn't sure quite what I was supposed to do to assist Dees in this regard (knowing the theory that I should have tried to save my legs for the hills), but upon advice from Jason Mahoney (the Uber Coach) we agreed that I should give Dees a lead out for the sprints as it meant that I could not only dictate the pace, but also stay up the front and therefore out of trouble in case someone came down during the sprint.

So anyway, we rolled out of Bright at 7:35am, 10 minutes after Women's A grade. It was quite a cool morning, and given my (and Dees'!) tendency towards disorganisation, we started the Stage at the back of the bunch. I stayed at the back for 5-6km as we rolled through town at a gentle pace in perfect 2 x 2 bunch formation. The only problem with that was that I was freezing! I ended up moving to the front of the bunch at about the 6.5km mark to try and pick the speed up a bit not only in anticipation of the sprint, but also to try and keep warm! Over the next few kms I wound the pace up, and ended up stringing the bunch out behind me. I checked over my shoulder on a few occasions and could see Deciana sitting comfortably in third wheel, so kept the pace up thinking we weren't far out from the sprint.

The only problem was that the sprint was actually at the 12km mark rather than the 10km mark, so I was feeling a little wearier than intended by the time we finally saw the sign noting that the sprint was 500m ahead. With about 300m to go, one of the girls jumped and another 4 attempted to respond to the jump to fight out for the sprint. Deciana responded really well and was coming through solidly and looked as if she was going to win the sprint, but ran out of room and ended up coming 2nd in the sprint by less than 5cm. It was super impressive to see her power and sustained acceleration coming up to that sprint!

Just after the sprint we took a right hand turn towards Rosewhite Gap (the Category 2 climb of the Stage) and it was clear that no one really wanted to sit on the front along that section. I was still trying to recover from my previous 5-6km on the front so sat back in the bunch, but it was clear some of the girls were pushing forward in the bunch, which meant I was further back in the bunch than I really wanted to be. So I pushed forward again and took another big turn on the front with Dees on my wheel, and then she took a turn to give me a bit of a break before we hit the hill (she and I ended up spending about 90% of Stage 1 on the front!). Dees continued on the front for the first part of the climb up Rosewhite and then I went around her so she could sit on my wheel and we could try and keep the pace moderate for as long as possible (thereby making sure Dees would have as best chance as possible to be with the group for the next sprint point, which was in between the two climbs for the day).

Unfortunately one of the girls touched wheels as we were climbing up Rosewhite Gap and came down, knocking another girl down with her. I was relieved to have been sitting comfortably on the front of the bunch at this point! Fortunately the girls that came down were ok and ended up finishing the Stage.

After a few kms, some of the other girls started pushing forward (there were only approx 5 girls left in the group at this point), which I took to mean that the QOM wasn't far off. I sat in for a little bit watching the girls, but then started to feel a little boxed in so moved out around the group and accelerated up the hill. I kept a solid pace for a few pedal strokes, and looked around to see a few of the girls try to come with me but it was clear they didn't have the legs (I was very appreciative of all of those Red Hill sprints Jason had made me do at that point!). I crested the QOM line with probably about 20 metres gap on the other girls, which certainly filled me with confidence. I took the descent very easily to give myself an opportunity to recover and also to enable Deciana to chase back onto the group before the next sprint. Sure enough, just before we hit the flat section again at the bottom of Rosewhite Gap, Dees went sailing past me so I grabbed her wheel and we were away again.

Once we'd regrouped at the bottom of the hill I had a quick look around and it seemed that we were down to 10 riders. I sat on the back of the group for a bit recovering a little more, but then moved back to the front to share the work on the front with Dees. We knew that the next sprint was at about the 77km mark, so we rotated the lead until about the 73km mark, where we agreed that she would sit in and I would gradually wind the pace up for the sprint. Unfortunately the sprint wasn't at the 77km mark though - it was at the 80km mark, which meant I had a pretty solid and long lead out for the sprint! We caught the WA bunch just before the town of Tawonga and had to slow up a fair bit while the lead cars sorted out whether we were to pass them or not (they were clearly just out for a dawdle before hitting the hills). The instruction came for us to pass WA, and I must say it was kind of cool passing their bunch and having all of these super fit and pro women giving us a cheer as we went by.

Finally we hit Tawonga and we could see the sprint line up ahead. Dees jumped pretty early, but I think that actually worked in her advantage as she has a deadly long sprint on her while the other sprint contender had a quicker but shorter sprint. It was awesome to watch from behind, and none of the rest of the bunch could see who was ahead at any time it was that close. Turns out Dees got it by about the same margin she'd come 2nd in the first sprint: 5cm. Go D-train!! Super impressive.

And then for some more recovery as we headed towards the feed zone before starting the final climb of the day up Tawonga Gap. The WA bunch passed us again just before the feed zone as we were recovering from the sprint, which was a little chaotic as I'm pretty sure they didn't wait for their lead car to give them the all clear before passing us. Oops!

Just after the feed zone we took a right hand turn to start the climb up Tawonga Gap. It didn't take long after we hit the climb for the group to start shedding riders. I sat at the back for the start of this climb, happy for the other girls to dictate the pace to give myself a little more time to recover from my long lead-out before the sprint. Just before we hit some windey sections with a few hairpin bends in them, we had a very near miss with a touch of wheels and a girl nearly coming down on top of me. I decided at that point that I didn't want to sit at the back anymore. So I moved around the group and picked the pace up slightly, just as the gradient also picked up a fair bit (going from approx 8% to 13-14% in the corner). I cleared the corner and looked back to the group and saw that I already had 50m or so on the other girls and that they were struggling to respond. I hadn't intended to go clear of the group at that stage, but decided not to waste my advantage and kept going. And then the Commissaire moved in behind me after the next corner, which I took to be a sign that I had a pretty decent gap on the other girls.

I kept plugging away at the hill feeling really good. I didn't know exactly how far I had to go on the climb, so I tried to keep working hard, but not too hard, in case one of the other girls caught up and I needed to be able to respond. But then I went past a sign saying 1km to the QOM, and then the Commissaire drove up beside me radioing in that I was coming up towards the finish (she was such a lovely commissaire - lots of encouragement after she'd finished radioing). It wasn't long until there were people lining the road towards the summit and the cheering started and gee that buoyed me on. Seeing Jason M cheering with a big smile on his face was a good feeling too: I knew he believed that I'd do well at Bright and it was nice to be living up to his expectations.

I ended up crossing the finish line 1:09 ahead of the other girls - a very welcome advantage going into the final 2 stages.

Stage 2: Time Trial
My only goal for the time trial was not to lose much, if any, of the time advantage I'd gained from Stage 1. The time trial course was an undulating 15.7km out and back course. It was really windy by the time the time trial was on in the afternoon, and it looked like it was going to be a tailwind for most of the way out (which was slightly more uphill), and then headwind the whole way back.

Deciana and I did a bit of a warm-up, which unfortunately was a bit too much of a warm-up as we nearly missed our starts! Oops! Dees literally rolled straight to the top of the ramp and off when we finally arrived at the start point.

There were two challenging parts of the TT course for me: the held start and then rolling down the TT ramp (I'd only done 2 held starts previously and never on a ramp!), and then the turn around point as I'm really not renowned for my ability to do a hot dog turn (ie, a u-turn) on a bike. I've been told I looked pretty apprehensive waiting at the top of the ramp for my start and I think the person who said that was being polite. I was so relieved when I made it down the ramp that I actually gave myself a cheer, and then got focused on time trialling.

To be honest, there's not much to write about for the time trial as the goal is just to go as fast as you can. And that's exactly what I did. It didn't take long until I started to pass a few riders, which is always a good feeling. I saw Dees coming back the other way from the turn around just as I was approaching the turn around and she was looking really strong. I managed the turn around without unclipping a pedal or falling off (one of my goals for Bright accomplished!) and then got focused on the return journey, which was a fair bit faster despite the head wind.

I came up to the finish line and was watching the clock: Jason M had told me that I'd probably be able to go sub-25 minutes for the TT. Sure enough, I crossed the line in 24:58. Sometimes I wonder if Jason is psychic. :-) We had a chat and debrief post-TT, before I headed home. It wasn't until I got home that I realised I'd actually won the TT by about 20 seconds (Dees got 3rd in 25:23). Not quite sure how I pulled that one out, as I've never been renowned for my time trialling abilities! Maybe I do just have a good race focus after all. The good thing about winning the TT was that it meant that not only had I not lost any of my 1:09 time advantage that I got during Stage 1, but I'd actually increased my lead to 2:15 going into Stage 3. Yay!

Stage 3: Hotham Ascent
We were the 2nd last bunch away on Stage 3 and were met at the start line with the news that the stage had been cut short (by approx 8km) due to freezing conditions on Hotham and very high winds. I was a bit relieved and disappointed at the same time: I was ready to take on the challenge of Hotham, but 8km less climbing pain (particularly when the 8km consists of a few quite steep climbs punctuated by some sharp descents) is never a bad thing when you already have two stages in your legs.

The first 26km of the stage consisted of rolling terrain, punctuated by 2 sprint points - the first at the 16.5km mark and the second at the 26km mark. Similar to Stage 1, I took quite a long turn on the front coming up to the first sprint, gradually winding the pace up to lead Deciana out. Unfortunately neither sprint was to be hers on Stage 3, as the girls were all sprinting on tired legs from their efforts over Stages 1 and 2, and it seemed that they started sprinting a bit later in the piece, and Dees' long sustained sprint seemed to get edged out by the girls with their quick accelerations. She ended up getting 3rd in both of them though, to claim 2nd in the sprints competition overall. Go Dees!

The climb up Hotham starts pretty much as soon as the second sprint is over. Having done the lead out for the sprint, I ended up having a bit of a gap on the other climbers in the group coming towards the first pinch up Mt Hotham. I was half tempted to sit up and let the girls catch back on, but decided to keep going and force them to chase me a little bit up this steeper gradient and tire themselves out a bit. It took less than 1km before the initial group of 5 climbers was down to 3, and then it was just me and one other girl. I could hear her breathing hard and knew she wouldn't be able to hold on for long. We chatted briefly, and I offered to ease the pace up so that we could stay together and work together on the false flat section after the Meg (one of the QOMs for Stage 3), and I could hear her try and put in, but mentally she was already done by that point and she dropped off my wheel and yelled at me to keep going. So I did.

I quite enjoyed the first part of the Hotham climb - it averages 6.6%, which is a gradient that seems to suit me. I found a good rhythm going along this section and, while I was pushing myself, I still felt that I could have picked up the pace if required. It didn't take long until I came across a sign noting the QOM was just 1km up the road, which meant that the Meg was just around the corner. I'd heard horror stories about the Meg, largely because it comprises a relatively sudden increase in gradient, which if you've been sitting at or above your threshold over the previous 6.6% section, can be enough to pop a lot of riders. The Meg apparently averages 9%, but I did look at my Garmin on a few occasions going up there and saw figures as high as 18%. I was understandably pleased to crest the Meg and be cheered by the lovely volunteers counting QOM points.

After the Meg I'd been told that the gradient backed off to an average of 1.8%. But unfortunately it didn't back off when I expected it would have - I kept seeing gradients of 6-7% on the Garmin, which as noted above I don't mind, except that mentally I'd thought it would be basically flat. The earlier men's grades had already started descending down Hotham by the time I was at this section, and lots of them were shouting encouragement at me as they went flying by, which really helped me keep motivated.

Finally the gradient did back off, and at about this point I saw a VCC jersey up ahead. I caught up to the rider, and realised it was Boz (VCC icon!), who told me that he'd sat up and waited for me so that he could ride behind me and assist in case I had a mechanical / flat tyre or something over the final 10kms of the Stage. Such a lovely gesture and so indicative of the level of support the V-Maxx squad gave me over the 20 weeks leading up to Bright. Fortunately I didn't have to call on Boz though.

The last 10kms were actually pretty fast as we had a bit of a tailwind and it was a genuine false flat. I loved this section. I loved how my bike was feeling under me, how I felt riding it, the view, the sound of the wind in the trees, the encouragement from other riders, just everything. I felt so lucky to be participating in the race, and just couldn't stop smiling (and have the photos to prove it!). It was an awesome feeling coming into the finish, first seeing Jason Mahoney clapping and then hearing the VCC crew cheering. It turned out I won the stage by just over 2 and a half minutes, and the overall general classification (GC) by nearly 5 minutes. Woot!

Noting the length of this post, here are a few quick thank yous (and sorry if I've missed anyone):
* my family (Andy & the kids) for facilitating and enabling me to train and then race in my first tour - you guys rock;
* the V-Maxx squad generally for their humour, dedication, company and general entertainment - you are a great bunch of people;
* Jason Mahoney, Uber Coach, for not only the awesome program that transformed me from an unfit ex-cyclist to a relatively fit cyclist in what felt like a few short weeks, but also for the support generally and for believing that I'd be able to do it;
* B-Rad (aka my Girlfriend) for being the best training buddy a girl could hope for. Come rain, hail or shine you'd be there pushing me, keeping me company and being my mate. I hope you know how much I appreciate it, and I hope that I've been at least half the training buddy to you that you've been to me;
* Scotty for all the bike love you've given my numerous bikes over the past year - because of you I always run smooth; and
* Dees for being an awesome team mate in my first tour - I'm so super keen to do it again with you soon now that we agree I'm not the world's worst lead out. :-p

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's nearly D-day

Well, it's been 19.5 weeks since I started cycle training again and I thought I'd take a minute to reflect on where I'm at and how I'm feeling now that the Tour of Bright (ToB) is only a couple of days away (before my feelings are influenced by the results of the ToB).

During the middle of the program, I felt stressed and anxious that I would never have enough time to get properly fit. I thought that in the week leading up to the ToB I'd be going a little bit insane with stress about the looming race. But instead I feel strangely serene, resolved even. I think this is for two reasons: I've done the best I could possibly do in hitting the training sessions over the past 20 weeks; and I'm aware that the training is done and there's nothing I can do now to change my riding to influence the results this weekend.

Thinking back to where I was 20 weeks ago I can only describe myself as proud of what I've achieved over the past 20 weeks. I had a pretty low-level of fitness after an extended period off the bike, was a nervous nelly in a bunch and bike generally and didn't know whether or not I'd be able to commit to the training due to competing demands on my time. But I think I'd now describe myself as probably the fittest I've ever been, comfortable in a range of cycling situations (including descending and cornering at speed) and proud of my training strike rate (although my boss may use a difference adjective to describe my commitment to my training...). I know I've still got a lot to learn (like Rach I'm waiting for my hotdog turn epiphany) but it's still nice to know I've improved during the program.

Gamin Connect provides me with the following rough stats of what I've been up to since I started training again on 19 July:
* I've spent over 223 hours riding (lucky Garmin Connect doesn't provide me with a stat for how much associated time I've spent having cycling-related coffee, or beer for that matter!);
* I've ridden approx 5,700km, which included 67,684m of elevation; and
* I've burnt nearly 90,000 calories.

But what Garmin Connect can't portray is how much fun I've had riding over the past few months. Here's a snapshot of some things that I am now recalling from the program:
* epic 4 hour ride to Corin from SFP with Andrew, Brad and Tim, where it rained for 3/4 of the ride and we all ended up slightly disoriented (probably hypothermic!) and all conversation ended up consisting of words ending in "y" (eg, Brad being pleased to have fixed his weird "squeaky, squeaky, rubby, rubby" bike);
* coached session with Jason Mahoney (also in the rain), with half the squad singing as we were going up Red Hill;
* chilled out E1 Wednesday sessions, where it's all about the company and catching up in a relaxed atmosphere;
* getting stuck in a hail storm on the return journey from Collector;
* turning up to ANU for another coached session with Jason Mahoney to find him doing his best impression of a commando with chain grease all over his face (yes, I honestly thought he was instigating his own "boot camp" style of training and was most disappointed to find it was just from a mechanical);
* doing a coached session while suffering from food poisoning, and leaving a trail of fluorescent green vomit on the lawn of a random embassy on Mugga Way;
* head / shoulder butting a car in O'Connor on my way to a training session and not getting completely freaked out about it;
* doing Red Hill repeats without closing either of my brakes and doing Stromlo repeats with my back wheel rubbing (yes, it appears that I haven't learnt much mechanically while doing the program - might try and rectify that for the next program!); and
* changing a tyre all on my own on the side of the road for the first time ever (even if it did take roughly 25 minutes).

Some of the above would have been absolutely horrendous if not for the awesome group of people I've been training with. Everyone is fun, quirky and entertaining, and they've all pushed themselves to their limits over the past 20 weeks. We've gotten to know each other and respect each other as individuals and cyclists as part of the program, and I know this is a group of people I will stay in touch with forever (and yes, I am getting soppy and sentimental with old age, or maybe it's just cycling-related fatigue). But what's so awesome about cycling is that we're all equals: as one squad member said, he knows pretty much everyone in the squad's heart rate zones, their climb times for local climbs, grades they race, what their cycling goals are, etc, but doesn't necessarily know what they do for employment. I kind of like that about cycling (although that's probably because I'm a lawyer and everyone generally hates me for it). :-) I hope everyone in the squad (including Jason M) knows how grateful I am for all of their support and friendship over the past 20 weeks (if they don't now, I suspect they will at post-Bright drinks on Sunday afternoon ;-) ).

I'm not sure what I'll be doing after the ToB. At some point (generally before I fell in love with training again) I thought that completing the ride would be enough for me, and I'd retire from cycling (or maybe more from training) and get back to the reality of being a lawyer-mum-wife-friend-occasional cyclist. But I'm pretty sure I'm going to miss it (and the squad!) when it's over and done with. I will enjoy easing back the training a little from next week and into Christmas, but I love the discipline, pushing myself and getting fitter and faster (not to mention being able to eat anything I want!). And I'd miss all my cycling buddies way too much to not train with them as well.

But I guess I don't need to worry about what I'll do post-Bright just yet: I should really focus on achieving my ToB goals. What else is there to say but thank you and bring on the ToB!

Monday, November 21, 2011

ACT Hill Climb Championships 2011

On Saturday I competed in my first ACT Hill Climb Championships. The format for the race was basically an individual time trial, where competitors ride off at 30 second intervals within their relevant race category and go as fast as they can to the top of the climb. The race course was from the bottom of Corin Road to just past the Corin Forest Recreation Centre, which is roughly 12.5-13kms, with an average gradient of approx 4.5% but with some steeper sections getting up to 12-13%.

Most of the Vikings met up at Point Hut Crossing and rode up to the start line / registration desk together (we call this the race bus). What was clear from the start was that it was going to be a pretty warm race - it was already over 22 degrees when we were riding in at 8am (and given recent temperatures in Canberra it felt all the warmer).

Some of the girls and I had been chatting on the race bus about what category to enter: the usual grades weren't being run as it was the ACT Championships, so those under 30 would all be racing each other in the "Elite" category, and those over 30 could either enter Elite (if their licence had the option) or their relevant "Masters" category. This is quite significant as there were medals up for grabs for each category (and what girl doesn't love a bit of bling!?). After a moment of indecision I decided to bite the bullet and enter Elite, despite me being more than old enough to race in a Masters category. Most of the Valkyries that raced had to enter Elite through default (due to them being under 30) so we were all going up against each other in the fight for bling.

We did a bit of a warm-up up and down Corin Road waiting for the start, checking out the wildlife which included a flock of emus! I've been down to Corin quite a few times and have seen quite the array of wildlife, but never emus before. It was pretty amazing.

And then it was time for the Elite women to start (both the men's and women's Masters categories started first). It was a held start (where someone holds your bike so that you can clip both pedals in and push off as fast as you can). I found it a little disconcerting as it was only my second held start and it did feel a little bit like I was going to tip over on the start line, but fortunately it went off without a hitch. I was the 3rd rider to go, so the first girl had a minute head start on me, and the second 30 seconds.

I kicked it pretty hard from the start, as I know I'm not as strong on the lower flatter sections of the climb as I am when the gradient becomes more consistent so I wanted to minimise any advantage any of the more powerful girls would have had on me over these sections. But it's always a fine line between kicking it hard v kicking it too hard (particularly too early). I think I may have been borderline going too hard too early, as my heart rate spiked pretty quickly up to 185+bpm, and once it goes up it's hard to get it back down again in a race situation.

I caught the rider who started 30 seconds before me pretty early on, and then focused on catching the rider who started a minute ahead of me. I passed her at about the 3km mark, and then focused on trying to maintain my momentum, keep my heart rate consistent and catch some of the Masters category men who had started before the Elite women.

I know the Corin climb quite well, having done it quite a few times recently, and I think this definitely worked to my advantage. But it doesn't meant the climb didn't hurt any less! The conditions were really not optimal: my Garmin was telling me the whole way up that the temperatures were pushing 30 degrees and it only seemed to be getting windier and windier (typically of the headwind variety!). I had a few moments during the first 5kms wishing, almost praying, for a mechanical or even just a flat tyre so that I would have had a legitimate reason to quit.

Fortunately I kept going as the second 5kms didn't seem to hurt quite as much as the first 5km. I was watching my 5km splits closely and trying to gauge how I was going speed-wise for achieving my goal of doing a PB. Unfortunately where I usually measure my splits from and where the race started were at different points so it was hard to compare times directly, but I could tell that I was struggling to achieve my sub-36 minute goal, particularly when I hit the steepest part of the climb (just past Billy Billy Creek) where the wind seemed to be howling down and doing its best to push me back down the hill.

The only saving grace of cresting the Billy Billy Creek climb was that I knew it was the last big climb of the course: after that the terrain is really only undulating for the last 2kms or so. I took a moment to recover at the top of Billy Billy Creek and then kicked the gears up and tried to push towards the end, still fighting the headwind. Competitors that had already finished and spectators were on the right-hand side of the road just before the finish line (it was an uphill finish) and it was great to hear them cheering for me as I was going past. And then it was over - hoorah! I hopped off my bike pretty much straight away and desperately hoped no one expected me to be able to speak anytime soon as I could barely breathe. I wasn't sure if I wanted to lie down or keep walking (I was feeling a little nauseous at the time!) so I compromised by leaning on my bike and puffing frantically, using hand gestures to try and communicate with anyone who seemed inclined to talk to me at the time.

Once I'd sufficiently recovered I wandered down to where everyone else was enjoying an ice cold soft drink and some lollies to watch / cheer for everyone else as they finished their races, and to debrief our own races. And that's one of the things that made the slog up the hill worthwhile.

Presentations were held not too much later, and it turned out I'd won Elite women in a time of 36:23. I was obviously very pleased to have won, but was also a little bit disappointed not to have achieved the sub-36 minute time I was hoping for. I know the conditions were against me in going sub-36 with the wind (and heat to some extent), but I'm still a little disappointed and even frustrated with myself. Oh well, I'll just have to get back out there and have another go some other time. :-)

All in all it was a good day of racing for the Valkyries (in our new Siren kit!) with Deciana also winning Masters Category 1, and Tegan coming third in Elite (with Ches and Anna finishing not too far behind her). Top effort ladies!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Determination and Practice: the keys to success (who would have thought it?)

So I was reading this book the other day in the library (because that's what us librarians do all day ;) ) called 30 Second Psychology: the 50 most thought-provoking psychology theories, each explained in half a minute, edited by Christian Jarrett (2011, Murdoch Books).

I found this interesting entry entitled 'Ericsson's 10,000-hour rule':

'It's tempting to look at truly exceptional achievers - such as Olympic athletes and celebrated musicians - and conclude that they must have been born with a unique gift for what they do.

According to influential research by psychologist Anders Ericsson, however, the path to expertise is available to anyone who's prepared to put in the necessary levels of practice. How much? Studies of elite musicians, athletes and chess players suggest at least 10,000 hours of practice spread over a period of more than ten years.

What's more, not just any kind of practice will do. Ericsson says it needs to be what he calls 'deliberate practice', in which you don't just repeat what you know but instead constantly seek to stretch yourself. This inevitably involves forensic self-criticism, repeated failure and a dogged ability to keep dusting yourself down and trying again - a process that's not particularly enjoyable and quite distinct from leisurely practice.

Although Ericsson's perspective argues against the idea of innate gifts, his concept of deliberate practice does of course require a rare mix of motivation, good health and opportunity.' if we all give up our full time jobs and practice lots, we can become elite cyclists and compete in the grand tours or Olympics? Maybe not - I suspect that physiological giftedness does count for quite a bit, plus that 'opportunity' that is mentioned, such as racing cyclist parents, getting an early start as a junior in competition and training etc.

Where this theory IS useful for the rest of us though, is as a reminder that we shouldn't get down on ourselves so readily for not being the fastest, most skilled cyclist in our group (something that I need to repeat to myself regularly). We so quickly jump to the conclusion that we should be as good as that person we are riding next to, or behind (sometimes a fair way behind!), when all of us have had different amounts of time or opportunities to practice those skills and develop that power and speed.

I thought it was also valuable to read that we shouldn't expect that those hours of practice will always be easy or fun. It helps a lot to know that 'failure' and determination to stick with it even when it's hard and scary - to 'constantly seek to stretch yourself' - is key to improvement and success, even for elite athletes.

Of course, it shouldn't always be challenging - if every single training session is seen as a chore or 'hard work' rather than an opportunity to have fun, motivation to continue soon peters out - but it seems that a balance between the two is vital to improvement and success. And ultimately that's what gives long lasting satisfaction and a sense of achievement that keeps us all coming back for more!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not training....Something's gotta give.

Well it seems I've hit another training fail. Pretty disappointed not to be on the bike but work and a pretty high level of bike-xiety about my impending move interstate is just getting the better of me.

It's funny because I think of all those freezing cold winter days we got up at 5am and rode in -4 in the rain, hail and snow and it seemed so easy to get up then but right now I'm shattered.

I know Lisa K is also not on the bike this week, although I'm hoping she is having better luck getting on the trainer. My messy little shoebox isn't particularly conducive to hardcore windtrainer sessions.

I looked at a calendar of the weeks til christmas finally (after basically avoiding thinking about it) and theres only one week between now and the big rides where I don't have to travel interstate. Travel for work is going to basically knock any of my training efforts out of the water.

I'm having trouble psyching myself up for any hills at all, training sessions I would normally relish (as you all know).

Anyway, I think the point of this post is that it does often get the better of you, trying to work and juggle commitments and also get on the bike. I wish this low point which is translating into three fairly restful weeks in a row, had come in the middle part of the year or the early part of this ToB training cycle, but sadly its come right at the end when i have only a few weeks left to prep for the Hartley 300km ride and the Tour of Bright.

I'm working on not beating myself up about it though (actually I'm just a bit too tired too) and hoping to have a fun race with KateH tonight. It's been pointed out to me that just getting on the bike for a ride, no pressure, might actually make me feel better (as it tends to do) so I'm just hoping to ride my bike.

I guess its proof that you actually cannot train and train and train and work and work and work and still expect your body to keep letting you. eventually it will say no, fairly loud and clear.

And now off to work to try and write a five year plan by the end of the day....

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fitz's 105 - a great day out.

I wasn't going to write a post on yesterday's Fitz's 105 which I rode with Maja as I know she is going to write one. But I thought I'd write something because it was my first time at 100kms and also at doing that much riding uphill.

I am not a light person (on a good day I think of myself as powerful and strong, on a bad day I'm a whale on a bike..), and I've always thought 'I can't ride up hills'. Truth be told until 3 months ago, I'd never actually tried to ride up hills, and I'd certainly never tried to improve my non-existent hill climbing ability. I was a triathlete (snort!) and we didn't do hills.

Struggling with recurrent back injuries (which were causing hamstring injuries) I was given the name of this Rachel Green lady who was putting together a development squad for womens cycling. Thinking (as a triathlete) that my cycling needed some attention I got in touch and became swept up in the Valkyrie whirlwind. Somewhere in there also I signed up for the Tour of Bright. And somewhere in there I stopped thinking of myself as a wannabe triathlete, and started thinking I liked the idea of being a wannabe cyclist. All of this has happened over the past 5 months, but I have only been cycling reasonably consistently now for 3 months.

Had you said to me 3 months ago I would do Fitz's 105 and that I would not once think of stopping and getting off to walk once while riding up some 1500m of hills (bumps, mountains, crests - call them what you want they were up) and that I would spend a lot of my hilltime overtaking people, I would have said 'yeah - not a chance'.
Oh, and that I would enjoy it (and oddly - the hills) too - not bloody likely!

Our average speed wasn't fast, but it wasn't a day for racing and riding with Maja it was her day to achieve a personal goal. What was evident was difference in the consistency of our training. Maja's training has been up and down in the past couple of months with work and personal commitments, 2 months ago she beat me up the three sisters at the end of our first every Uriarra-Cotter ride. Yesterday I was far stronger than her on all of the climbs, (neither of us had to get off and walk at any state - YAY). Two months ago, it would have been a different story.

As I was getting a few more rest breaks than if I had been riding by myself, I took the opportunity to work hard on the hills and try to get into a comfortable rhythm, which worked really well. It was particularly evident to me how much that matters when we had to stop HALF WAY UP Mt Mac for a checkpoint!! We stopped for a few minutes to fill waterbottles etc and when I got back on the bike for the rest of the climb I felt awful! My HR had returned to around 95 during the rest and within about 50m of resuming the climb had zoomed up to 160, not a nice or comfortable feeling. Overall yesterday my average HR was 138, so it was very (very) hilly ride with lots of E1 in between for me yesterday - a perfect long training ride!

The other thing I was thinking was how glad I was that this was my first 100km ride. Because now the prospect of riding from home into the PROD and then home afterwards (100km round trip) is no longer a daunting one. It's no-where near as hilly and I get a good long break for brunch at the 80km mark before I roll home. I think that if I had previously done a flatter 100km ride, I would have actually despaired at all the climbing yesterday, and might have psyched myself out of it before I even began.

And I'm not terrified of Bright anymore, it will be much faster as it's a race and my fitness will be tested more than yesterday, but maybe (just maybe) I just might make it to the end:-)
Thank you to everyone for being involved in this, a toast to new friends, new challenges and new accomplishments.

I love riding my bike!!

P.S. Congratulations to everyone who did Fitz's yesterday, Tegan on her blistering first 100km in 4 hours, Dec and Lisa for riding the 165 - an amazing achievement, you guys are going to be white hot in Bright, and to all the novice guys and the VMaxx guys who rode too.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tour of Two Rivers - Giro del Bellbridge

The final stage of the ToTR saw just two of the mighty Valkyries making the 4hr trek out to Albury, due to some scheduling conflicts, but KateM and I were lucky enough that her parents live half way to Albury so we stopped overnight for a home cooked meal and some time in their outdoor hot tub.

We discussed our strategy and tactics in detail and its interesting how much we have learned just over the stages of this tour; so we had a range of strategies, contingency plans and things to avoid to ensure a good result.

My focus, as it has been the whole tour, was on seeing if I have come far enough in training to get ahead of the lovely Jen from Griffith CC after coming so much closer at Coota in Stage 4.

I was feeling reasonably strong and mostly not sore (except for some shoulder and neck weariness from smashing out some roof painting with Cheska) but not being a climber I was realistic going into the race that hills are more Jens forte than mine.

I just hoped there might be some longish, flatter sections where I could use my strengths. My hopes were a bit dashed though when I realised that the start line was basically the foot of the steepest climb (7 or 8% over Talgarno Gap) which wouldn't give me time to warm into the race. I was also pretty concerned that I had neglected to bring any of the 5000 ventolin inhalers I own...

Arriving in Bellbridge to drive to the Bethanga start line though, the hills were completely daunting, and all around us. Driving over the hilltop finish all flagged and ready to go the smooth winding roads through bright green hills looked straight out of the TDF, and I began to get pretty excited about what would be some epic hilltop finishes.

At rego I was pleased to see that the women stalwarts of the ToTR had all turned up including 15 year old future star Elle Irvine, her mum Leanne and of course Jen Massey. Along with Kate and I there was one other local woman racing who looked a heck of a lot fitter (and on a seriously blinged bike) than the rest of us.

We lined up for the start in our combined Men's D/Women's B and C bunch and the old psychological banter started "you're not a climber, these girls are all really light, you'll get dropped on the first hill"

But this time there was another voice. I channelled the wisdom of our coach and heard "pick a good wheel, get away quickly off the line and just get on a good wheel".

So, we rolled away and I got straight on a wheel of one of the d grade blokes we have made friends with over the tour and set off, thankfully he knew I was behind him and kept it manageable, but pretty soon we were at the climb.

All of a sudden the unknown woman took off and attacked straight up the steep section like it was nothing, very quickly gaining a 20m lead on the whole bunch. The blokes initially didn't react until she was really opening up a decent lead so (looking a bit stunned) they had to respond and spat me out the back.

I heard Simon saying don't panic, keep going and we will try and catch them on the descent and so I kept it at a hard but manageable pace and soon enough we were over the crest and starting to move again, and lo and behold - there was Jen, also spat out the back, with a big bloke halfway between us. This is my chance I thought.

He picked up speed to go around her, so, keen to avoid my tactical mistake at Coota where we winded up towing her back into the race, instead of sitting on his wheel, I attacked further around on his right and suddenly we were ahead and she hadn't gotten on.

GO Go Go I screamed at the guy, which to his credit - he did (sometimes being a girl is very useful) and we were smashing it down the hill. Using our TTT skills as soon as I sensed him flagging I got on the front and smashed it then called him up as I tired. It was an epic pace line chase for a good ten kms being just off the bunch and we got within 30m at one point but hit a long climb and couldn't quite get on.

My new impromptu companion was riding an italian Basso bike, and I'm sure I even heard an italian accent on him.
There was a geat moment once I marshalled him to work for me as domestique when he suddenly be came just as excited about our epic chase as me and started yelling just as much as me "Ah-come on. We a gonna chase this bunch down!!! Lets go Lets Go!!!"

So exciting and perfect for a Giro, in the style of the Giro de Italia.

Wanting to stay away I kept us working and taking turns all the way into Bellbridge and around Lake Hume till we started to come around the loop and - on an amazing fast windy descent I suddenly realised I was having the time of my life and WOoHOo I took off!!!

Turning back towards the start line I realised I'd worn my buddy out and I would have to go it alone. Crossing the start line for lap two I felt tired in the legs but surprisingly confident. I knew what I had to do, I knew I could manage Talgarno Gap again and the Long undulation to Bellbridge and just comforted myself that if I managed to stay away for all that - it was only a 2.5km climb equivalent to stromlo. So I pushed on, working to keep the effort up and focusing on a high cadence. I saw another guy from MD dropping out but otherwise I was completely alone and a huge headwind had picked up.

As I approached the final climb my head checks got more frequent. Jen was nowhere in sight but I knew I couldn't out climb her and that shed be working to catch me on the final hill.
Finally it was time and I made the left up the 9-10% start feeling dead but was suddenly buoyed by the sight of another bloke ahead. If I could pass him, that would mean I'd come ahead of three blokes and all but one of the women. So I turned on my stromlo drill focus. Stick to a cadence, stick to a consistent heart rate and keep it steady - only 2.5km to go.

Little by little I edged past him and then it was 1km to go, and then a sharp switchback at 600m for the final pinch.

Worried that he'd chase me I got out of the saddle to open the gap up - which is when I realised I could see the whole valley - and that's when I realised that the rest of the women's field was nowhere in sight.

Reaching the top was a pretty big moment for me, after working so hard to improve through this series and I was especially grateful to the Griffith CC guys for waiting around to cheer the women over the line, as the marshalls had all left and weren't there to record places.

I'm pretty proud of how far I've come. Its been tough, but the view is certainly worth the climb.

Well done to Kate who smashed C grade again and took out the C grade series.
Can't wait till next year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Not training. It's a lot like training, but without the training.

Talk about all dressed up and nowhere to go.

I was planning for a couple of smashfest reps of Black Mountain this morning, which has an average gradient of about 8% I am told, but sections of around 13.5% and pending wet roads I had reasonably firm intentions of doing it.

Well actually, to be honest I didn't feel like it at all last night, but I got to bed early enough. Alarm goes off at 5:15, quick check of the weather reveals that the roads wont be wet and conditions are pretty good at about 9 degrees celcius (my idea of summer kit), and i got out of bed.

It's at this point that my complete lack of motivation became obvious. Didn't feel like moving much, tight, stiff and sore and zero enthusiasm.

Normally a bit of lady gaga on my iphone fixes that so I ignored how I was feeling and got kitted up, tried some stretching, but just felt like I got more sore.

Got all the way downstairs and standing in the car park of my apartment, and was making mental deals with myself "ok so, just go do two reps and theyll probably be crap but you can do two more on Thursday" when I decided to call it quits.

REally sore back, tight and tired legs and just felt like curling up in bed.

The problem is, I have this idea that I should train all the time and not miss a minute of training and no excuse is really a good excuse and all this sort of "Anti-Coach" crap in my head. Some of it comes from things I've been told in the past "stop whining and being lazy and just do it" and to an extent I think you need a bit of that or you'd never train really hard - but where to draw the line?

It's a tough one, because as our Coach tells us, rest is really important - and we are supposed to rest hard and train hard. It's a bit of a struggle though not feeling like I just copped out of training, but I am thinking of it like an experiment.

I'm fairly sure I wouldn't have taken any time off my climb this morning, and if I feel better tomorrow, there is every chance I could take some seconds off - especially since I'll have Valkyrie company from LisaK on the hill....

So lets see what happens.
Now if this heat pack could just make my back stop hurting.......

Sunday, October 23, 2011


First, if you are going to read this. hit play.

This post has been a long time coming.

When I was in high school, there was this mean girl who used to call me thunder thighs. I was really socially awkward, and anxious and depressed a lot on top of that, and not being one of the skinny popular girls who seemed to fit in so easily, during highschool i spent about four years hanging out in the art rooms painting rather than be teased and humiliated.

I turned avoiding PE into an artform. Anytime I was forced to participate I could see and hear the other girls making fun of me the whole way - I struggled, I was slow, I was unfit, I was red and puffed in the face, and I was fatter than them.

There's this other dual part of my life growing up though, that never fit - I come from a family that spent a lot of time at the coast, bushwalking, bodyboarding, camping, fishing - and when there was no one around to make fun of me, while I wasn't a superstar, I'd stay out the back of the waves longer than anyone else.

I also did a lot of secret sport on the side; you'd probably be surprised to know that I was a grade V ballroom dancer, that I have a whole bunch of showjumping ribbons from horseriding, that I have a few medals hidden somewhere from figure skating, which I used to love (mostly just the going really fast bit) until one day at school one of the boys looked at me, and looked at this other, thinner girl who also figure skated, and said to me "dont you need to have a figure to be a figure skater?"

I quit not long after. My ballet career ended much the same way, with the teacher telling me my stomach was too big and I was too overweight for Ballet. One by one, everything I would try, I would eventually give up because I felt bigger and like I looked bad doing it.

I started playing music when I was 12, and was performing regularly in bars from age 15, and in 1997 we had three songs on triple j. But I always noticed the different reactions that really skinny, pretty girls playing guitar got, were different to the reactions to me and this played a big part in my not going further with it than I did. 

I became a swimming coach in my early 20s, but attempts to actually train in an adult squad were thwarted by needing to wear swimmers in front of coworkers. And from age 15 to my mid 20s I was not only bulimic on and off, but using various drugs to try and lose weight. You could never really tell, I didn't get that skinny, I was just miserable and in pain all the time. I've also spent significant periods of time in relationships with guys who would openly tell me they thought I was too overweight for them.

I took up mountain biking in 2006 and started hitting the local gym pretty hard, but never seemed to see the results I know now were probably there. I continued to feel that high school mentality, discovering rock climbing and loving it, but not continuing it because I had a whole lot of friends who were really good climbers (and being good climbers they were super skinny) and I just visualised how I must look to them, climbing up a cliff face with my legs in the harness....

I don't know what changed really, I think getting a bit older helps a lot, but there was a point when I had just started to like riding, especially by myself, because I could challenge myself, prove that I could do things, and there was no one around to see how bad I looked in cycling gear. And when I made the move to Canberra, I gave myself the present of a brand new Felt F5, full carbon road bike, with the intention of riding more and more.

It took me two years to join a club, because I was sure all the other girls would be skinnier and look better in their kit than me, and I remember my first V-Mobile session, Verity was there and she looked super pro to me, that (as per a previous post) I nearly gave up then and there. 

The support though, of vmobilers like Ben, Brad and Rob kept me coming and gradually, something changed. 

The focus became about speed, skill, kms, hills and not so much about what I looked like.

Winning the Club Champs time trial was actually a huge deal for me, I've never ever won anything that was a race before and it was a really big moment for me personally. 

The DBR results helped too, and the more I train, the better I feel about my body and my capabilities.

But the point I wanted to make, was that there was a day a couple of weeks ago where I was doing hill reps on Stromlo, and after the previous attempt where I couldnt get a single rep right, I managed to do 6 perfect strength reps in a row, all thanks to the work of my Thunder Thighs, and I was so buzzed that I composed this whole post in my head. But before I got a chance to put it up, there were some pics taken at the Novice crit and I instantly went back to feeling awful about myself. Funny thing was, while I could only see myself in the pictures looking awful, the more other cyclists I talked to, the more they were pointing out how bad thought they looked in the photos!!

Almost every one of us were feeling the same thing! 

So this bring me to my point I guess. Whilst riding recently with our WA champ, LisaK told me that she too used to get called Thunder Thighs. I was a bit dumbfounded by this as we are totally different shapes, but it just goes to show that we all have this kind of body image natter in our heads.

So I'll share with you something I read in a magazine when I was a kid that has always stuck with me:

Thunder Thighs at least implies a kind of power, that sparrow legs will never have.

So I guess thats cycling for you, and one of the things I love most about it. 

It eventually wears that self image focus out of you, and its not about the body and all about the strength, power, determination, and also, tan lines.

Yesterday I had an amazing race, light years better than anything I have done before, I really raced the whole thing and coming second in B Grade I really made the first placed woman work hard for it.

On top of that this week I have:
-taken my Stromlo hill rep count up to 7
-taken 25 seconds off my PB up stromlo
-hung on to a WA crit for four laps and then brought home a second place in B
-raced well
-trained hard

And all of that, thanks to my Thunder Thighs which pulled me up each and every climb.

Thanks Thunder Thighs...oh, and to the mean high school girls along the way?'ve been thunderstruck.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Corin Classic Race Report

This morning I did my first WA road race and it was a good one. :-)

Coming into the race I was pretty apprehensive. I've been training pretty consistently, and have done a fair bit of work down at Corin recently (it's one of Canberra's longest climbs and is great preparation for Tour of Bright, so when the program says "include a long climb like Corin", it would appear that I like to include more than 1 of them...). It had been "suggested" that I should step up and race WA for this race, which I thought was a compliment in itself, but I still wasn't convinced. It didn't help that I had a rotten hills session on Thursday where I just couldn't seem to get myself moving, which hadn't done wonders for my confidence. But the WA course was a bit longer than WB (54km v 25km), which I thought would be better training for the Tour of Bright, so I bit the bullet and registered for WA.

The one advantage for me in riding WA was that it was combined with MC. Pretty much all the guys that I train with in the V-Maxx squad are MC, so at least it meant I'd have some friends on the road. And I was lucky enough that my bestest training buddy Brad decided that he'd ride for me (as my Super Domestique!). In consultation with Jason Mahoney from Argonaut, we decided that Brad's job was basically to protect me for the first 40km (which was undulating) before we hit the climb (approx 13.5km), making sure I didn't get spat off in the event of a rapid accelleration, and to generally protect me in the bunch. My job was to stay with the bunch until the climb and then get some practice in racing up a climb with a group.

The combined MC / WA was quite large, with approx 25-30 riders in it (definitely the biggest bunch I'd ever ridden in), although there was only 1 other WA rider. It was a little disconcerting heading off at a rate of knots with that many people around me but it didn't take long until some sort of rhythm had formed and the ride was relatively smooth. I felt pretty comfortable heading out towards Tidbinbilla (with my heartrate largely in recovery - E1), although I was conscious of the fact that it was mostly downhill, so knew I'd have to work a bit harder on the return journey.

The bunch was pretty much still together coming into the first turn, and someone within the bunch yelled out to neutralise around the turn so that everyone could regroup. I wasn't opposed to this as I was in the middle of the bunch at this point and don't have the world's best turning circle (understatement of the century!), so it was nice to see the bunch sit up and wait until everyone had pretty much regrouped before getting back down the business of racing. Unfortunately the other WA rider dropped off at around this point so we didn't get to spend much time racing together.

The return journey was a little surgey, and there was one hairy moment when the fellow in front of Brad touched his brakes for some unknown reason, and Brad nearly ran up the back of him, with me nearly running up the back of Brad. But we all stayed upright, and just watched a bit more carefully from then on in. I must say it was nice being looked after by Brad and some of the other VCC riders - I basically had Brad in front of me, constantly checking over his shoulder to make sure I was still with him / OK, and Chris behind me, giving me instruction on where to sit within the bunch. I could get used to that! :-)

But we all knew that the race would get interesting once we hit the climb up to Corin. And as predicted, as soon as we turned the corner into Corin, the pace picked up a fair bit. Brad jumped on the front and pushed the pace, hoping to shed a few riders fairly early to make it easier for me and another VCC rider. This worked pretty well, but another rider attacked straight off the back of that on a fairly solid uphill section, and I didn't have the legs to go with this attack. So I just kept plugging away up the hills, and it didn't take long until a group of 5 of us had formed and started climbing together. I had a bit of fun practicing some race climbing tactics at this point, and we even managed to pick up a few riders from the earlier attack. We stayed together until about the halfway mark of the climb, before I went clear of the group and kept going solo. I found it a fair bit easier to work on my own at this point, as the gradient was a lot more consistent and I could just get myself into my own climbing style.

At long last, we hit Billy Billy Creek, which marks the last big hill that forms part of the Corin climb. I'd been making up ground on the rider in front, and tried pretty hard up this section to reel him in, but it wasn't to be. Another rider caught up with me just past the crest of the Billy Billy Creek section, which was great as it meant I could get a bit of a draft on the flatter / undulating sections before the uphill finish, before overtaking him again towards the end.

And then it was over. I was pretty relieved to have finished, as Corin is always a pretty tough climb. I ended up coming 1st in WA, and 5th overall in MC, which is far better than I expected I'd do. I suspect that's largely because of how well I was looked after by my fellow VCC riders, so I hope they know how grateful I really am for their support. And I even managed a PB up Corin too, but that was just gravy!

So all in all, I'm pretty stoked with today's race. It's a good mark of how far my training has come in the past 13 weeks, but it's also a little bit auspicious for me in way as the Corin Classic was the last race I did last year before I got hit by a car and then had my extended period off the bike. So I kind of feel like today's race was a sign that all of the horrible-ness that came with getting hit by a car is now well and truly behind me, and I'm now fully prepared to get on with the job of riding my bike to the best of my abilities. Bring on the next few weeks of training!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Moving past the fear

This post is for Linda. :-)

I wasn't allowed to ride bikes when I was a kid. My parents were older than most parents of kids my age, and they encouraged us to do "indoor" activities. My best friend taught me to ride a bike, when I was probably about 8, by showing me how to launch myself down a set of stairs at the school she was living at. Unfortunately my mum also worked at the school, so my lessons were cut short (and there went my career as a professional downhill racer...). My sister and I were given bikes for Christmas one year. They had 3 gears and were cutting edge at the time. I remember the neighbours stopping me as I did my endless laps of the cul-de-sac we lived in (we weren't allowed to ride beyond the bounds of the cul-de-sac) asking about these new fandangled inventions called gears. I was very proud.

But then school and life got in the way, and the bike got relegated to the garage. My bike was finally dusted off again when I moved to Canberra, so that I had something to commute on at Uni. I'd ride my bike into civic from ANU to get me to work, and I vaguely remember a friend at the time commenting that I rode like a mad woman, up and down the pavement, around pedestrians, cars, etc. I suspect that was because I was always running late.

That bike was unfortunately stolen from out the front of the college I lived in at some point during my first year. I was a little bit devastated about my loss, but quickly saw the opportunity it presented: I could get an upgrade! So some friends took me bike shopping, and it wasn't long until I was the proud owner of an industrial yellow mountain bike that even had front suspension. The only problem with that was the expectation that I should take it mountain biking. This wouldn't have been a problem if I had actually known how to ride the thing. Unfortunately I didn't. The first problem was that the brakes were set up opposite to how much little commuter had been set up. This caused me two trips to hospital (not to mention expensive dental work!) in what was practically the first week I owned the bike! Hmmm... these incidents didn't take me long to realise I was in way over my depth. I probably knew at the time that I should have quit while I was behind, but failing is not something I like to do, so I persevered until I could ride that da*mn bike. I would ride it everyday - commuting on bike paths, fire trails, single track, you name it and I would (try to) ride it. I finally got to the point that I felt vaguely competent on it, but I was always a bit too wary to really enjoy riding hard. Unsurprisingly, as life got in the way, my mountain bike got relegated to the garage.

It wasn't until some years later that a colleague signed me up to do the Hartley Lifecare Cycle Challenge. I'd never been on a road bike before (in fact it had been years since I'd been on a bike of any form!), but sure, why not sign up for the ride (which entailed riding from Canberra to Charlotte's Pass and back over 3 days) in just over 3 months time. So I bought my first road bike. Straight away, road cycling gelled with me. It seemed to be more about fitness than skill (at least it was based on the training that I was doing then, which was just to ride my bike as much as I could), so my lack of nerve didn't seem as relevant. I loved the act of cycling, the social side of cycling, the freedom of cycling and couldn't get enough of it. I remember getting back from the Hartley Cycle Challenge and not wanting to stop riding, despite having lived on the bike for basically 3 days straight.

Enter more life interruptions (in the form of a couple of babies) and I was ready to get back on the bike again. I rode with some good friends and then we decided to train up for a few events together. We were eagerly anticipating our first post-baby race, but when the race came, I only managed to stay upright for 1km or so before the person in front of me braked suddenly and I ran up the back of him, coming down hard and bringing a fair proportion of the bunch down with me. My bike was the most serious casualty of that crash, but I also managed to break and dislocate my collarbone. It didn't need surgery fortunately, but it did render me out of action for a good few weeks after the event.

I got back on the bike and started training again. I spent most of my time training alone (either on the wind trainer or just riding solo or with, at most, a couple of friends), so while I was getting stronger fitness-wise, I wasn't doing much to recover my loss of confidence in a bunch. I was very hesitant about the idea of riding with people I didn't know, and I was also concerned that people didn't want to ride with me because of what I perceived to be my lack of skill: I hated the idea of being the person that everyone would tell others to steer clear of in the bunch.

And then I came off again, unfortunately a little more seriously this time. A car stopped to give way to me at a t-intersection, and then "forgot" I was there when I was directly in front of him and he accelerated into me. I can piece together exactly what happened, but I can't remember much after the initial impact, not so much because I hit my head, but because I closed my eyes to pretend it wasn't happening. My injuries were a little more serious after this accident and kept me off the bike for a couple of months post-accident.

When I realised that physically I was probably able to get back on the bike, I struggled with the mental side of getting back on. I wanted to get back on the bike to prove to myself that I could, but the idea of getting back on and going through what I'd just gone through again made me feel physically sick. I was also struggling with the appropriateness of the level of risk represented by cycling (given what had just happened) when I had two small children at home.

Some good friends organised a nice gentle "return to the bike" ride for me about 2 months after my accident. One friend came to my house to make sure that I would not have to ride any part of the ride solo. We rode super slowly and carefully, largely on the bike path, to meet the others. I was shaking for most of it - everything about riding felt wrong: my body still hurt; my legs weren't functioning the way they used to; I was on a different bike / different helmet, etc. But when I met up with the rest of the girls and we started riding, it started to feel OK again. Over time, I started going out with the girls most weekends. I had a great time when I was with them, but as soon as they turned off and I had to ride those last few kms home alone, I felt like I was constantly holding my breath and trying not to cry - I cannot describe the sense of relief I felt when I made it home to my front door.

During this time, I decided that I didn't really want to get back into training on the bike. I thought that I could probably continue to have the occasional ride with friends on weekends, but that would be enough. It had been fun, but, in my mind, it was in the past. It's only now that I can honestly say that it was the fear talking. Most of you who will be reading this know me and know how much I LOVE riding my bike and what I get out of it. I love pushing myself as hard as I can on my bike, getting fitter and faster, the company, the adventures... Yep, I just love it.

Fortunately for me, Rach started the Valkyries. Despite having reconciled that my bike riding days were over, I was somehow tempted to join: if I had a regular group to ride with, maybe I could just slot in and enjoy some good company on a nice leisurely weekend ride followed by coffee? Maybe? So I turned up to my first PROD and it was pretty fun, despite me still feeling slow and unfit and terrified of traffic and other cyclists...

Then somehow I let Brad talk me into training up for the Tour of Bright with the V-max squad. I remember my first bunch ride with the guys: I spent most of the ride hanging metres off the back terrified that I was going to come crashing down and would not want to get back up again. I kept getting told to push up closer on the wheel in front, but I couldn't bring myself to do it, so I worked way too hard getting no draught off anyone, despite me being the smallest and least fit person in the group. I remember thinking I was way out of my depth in that group and I think the only reason I persevered was because I knew Bright was an uphill race, and that would mean that I could pretty much do it at my own pace and not worry about other riders.

It's been 12 weeks now since I started training again. I can't say exactly when it happened, but at some point over the past 12 weeks I stopped being scared. Each ride just got a bit easier. I've thrown a few races in during this period as well, which have been great for stopping me thinking so much about "how" I'm riding, and just get on with the job of riding and letting it come naturally.

There's definitely a direct correlation between me losing the fear and my skill on the bike increasing (the more scared I was, the worse my bike handling skill as I think I was basically fighting the bike rather than using it as my tool on the road). I even like going fast downhills and around corners now! I'll never be renowned for my "extreme bike handling skills", but I think now that I'm a bit more confident on the bike again, I'm easier to ride with as I'm more predictable for those around me. I still flinch (and occasionally slow down / swerve!) whenever I see a car coming towards me from the left at an intersection, but I'm quite happy to get up close and personal with other people / their wheels, etc. I think having an awareness / respect for the dangers of what we're doing is very important, as it helps inform us of appropriate levels of risks to take when riding and it makes us better riders.

I think females are generally less confident on bikes than men, whether that's because we don't tend to "grow up on a bike" as much as our male counterparts or something else I'm not sure. We over-analyse things when we can't do them, thinking over and over and over about our perceived lack of skill rather than celebrating the skills we actually have.

So my tips for moving past the fear:
* don't beat yourself up about being scared - everyone gets scared sometimes and you don't have to be brave all the time;
* try to figure out what it is you're actually scared of (eg, physical pain of falling off generally, a specific "skill" on the bike, such as cornering / descending, etc) and talk to other cyclists (preferably ones that actually seem to know what they're doing!) about how they handle particular situations;
* when things go wrong, try to remember that these are the best learning opportunities you'll get on the bike;
* take a moment to think about how far your bike skill has progressed since you first started riding and be proud of yourselves for every inch of that achievement;
* keep riding your bike - nothing can help more than time on the bike (particularly if it involves good company and good coffee (aka the ride debrief) afterwards);
* remember that everyone has a bad day now and then (for whatever reason), and that this doesn't mean you're a bad rider; and
* when you are having a bad day / patch on the bike, remind yourself of what it is you love about riding your bike - don't let a few bad incidents get in the way of all the positive things you get out of riding your bike.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Training away from home

So it's always a challenge if your routine (a rather precious thing for roadies) is interrupted by rain/hail/travel for work etc - but that's hopefully where you'll notice the difference from having committed to a certain level of training for a target race.

I am in Brisbane overnight so no bike available but since we are 8 weeks out from Tour of Bright, there is no way I can skip sessions as the one thing I have struggled with in the last few weeks is consistency.

So, after some googling and phoning around, I found a gym nearby with spin bikes that were free so I could use the whole room, and I thought I would try a tempo session that Coach Simon had given me.

I started on the spin bike and it just felt so wrong, the seat was uncomfortable, I was too hot and sweaty and the general "not-a-real-bike-ness" of it just kinda sucked so I struggled in the first 15 minutes to do anything useful. I also found that without a cadence meter (on a spin bike as opposed to the kind with the  screens) I was a bit psyched out by not being able to measure performance the way I am used to. I did however have my garmin that I had remembered to pack along with HR sensor so at least I could record and follow the drill.

I did go and try the "exercise bike" for all of a minute but was actually unable to even sit on the thing - it had some kind of bizrre built in suspension in the seatpost for the oversized ginormous padded saddle, which had the nose pointed so far down you actually slid off if you were trying to pedal!!! How can people use these things!!

So I went back to the spin bike which is at least a bit closer and decided to harden the f**k up.

Note - always bring decent shoes if you are going to give this a go - I've just pedalled two hours in soft dunlop volleys and my feet are a little bit in agony.

Anyway, the session called for 3x20 minute efforts in a very specific and narrow HR range (between 162-168 bpm) on a stationary bike, with ten minute recoverys in between and Simon had said if I did it right the HR file would look like flat plateaus. It was a new form of torture but I think you'll agree from the HR image here - I nailed it!

Kinda proud I was able to keep my HR in such a set zone.

Afterwards I even stretched properly - something I don't normally do, and did a 1 minute plank just for fun! So I guess the moral is - where there's a will there's a way.

Plus I think the guy at the gym was kinda impressed when he asked me what event I was training for ;)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

...epic grace...

I've been thinking about posting something about this for a while, and its funny that although my day job is all about social and emotional wellbeing, suicide reduction, reducing stigma around mental health and mental health policy advice, I actually most of the time avoid talking about this sort of stuff personally.

The video above is a live version of a great Michael Franti song - called Pray for Grace. It's got some great lyrics that have been stuck in my head lately, starting with 'Why must I feel like this today?' and talks about dealing with living a life that has shades of grey in it or living in a haze, and just finding grace by taking a breath and reminding yourself that everything is going to be okay.

It rings pretty true for me because i have lived with some fairly dark shades of grey for quite some time now, i usually call it bike-xiety because its riding my bike that actually keeps me well. There's a whole story behind it, and a range of things that happen for me that i wont go into detail about here, but it does mean that on top of my exercise induced asthma, i sometimes get quite physical panic attacks and today (as has happened once or twice before) I had both multiple asthma attacks and a panic attack that lasted for the whole hour I was attempting a 12km climb of Corin.

I was feeling pretty awful just generally in the morning and normally it's a good ride that actually makes me feel better - which, incidentally is why I am always riding such big kilometres - but this morning a few other random factors came into play and instead of settling into the ride, I went lactic trying to climb the first pinch out of the carpark with my back brake locked on, and rather than getting past it my bike-xiety and my asthma joined forces. When we got to the Corin turn off, before we even started the 12km of climbing I was pretty close to losing it and waited for the bunch to start climbing so they wouldnt see me if i burst in to tears.

And then I started to climb. When you're mind is panicking, it means your heart rate is higher than it should be, regardless of any hills and then the effort of climbing on top just sends it through the roof. By the time I hit the bottom of Billy Billy creek I was already done for and losing the battle against my head which had been saying for 20km that I shouldn't have come, couldn't make it even to do one Corin rep and what the hell was I doing training with a much stronger group I was clearly not in their league blah blah blah....

With that sort of anti-motivation, internal dialogue going on I didn't stand a chance and half way up my asthma was tipping me over the edge and I unclipped, stopped and had to sit down on the side of the road just to breathe and sob.

Being a caring bunch, shortly some riders appeared over the hill repping back for me and I couldn't even answer what was wrong. I got back on and with my lungs rasping struggled to the top - feeling like a failure that everyone else had come out for multiple reps and I couldn't even do one properly. (and its that kind of defeatist bullshit thinking that normally I use cycling to get rid of).

We stopped at the top for a bit and i could barely talk to anyone, its always impossible for me to talk about these things and shortly we set off on the descent. Lisa was kind enough to roll slowly with me - being in the kind of jumpy state where you might burst into tears at any minute is *not* a safe way to descend, but we had to get down. I did take one risk though today, and that was to actually explain to Lisa what was going on and I think in hindsight that must have helped.

Anyway, we got back to the start and I was pretty much toast but didn't want to stop the group from doing the training they had come for, so they set off on rep number two and I said I'd just roll around a bit and then crawl back the 15km back to the Tharwa carpark.

I gave myself permission at that point not to be as good as everyone else and put some tunes on my headphones figuring I'd just ride along in slow motion until they came back again.

I rode along for a while, until a funny thing happened. The grace kicked in. See, I'm not really a god/religion type of person, but I am a firm believer in the ability of riding a bike to be good for your whole body, including your mind. Next thing I knew Paddy appeared beside me, and there's nothing quite as good as having a buddy to ride with. He said we were pretty close to Gibraltar falls, which we thought was roughly halfway so I made that the goal and thought if I could just get there it would be 1.5 Corins which wasn't so bad.

We made it to Gibraltar turn off which is just below a crest and, not being an ambi turner I continued to the crest where some downhill was just ahead. Rationalising that you can't stop if there's downhill in front of you I rolled a little bit further, to the next little hill where I felt like I had a little bit to get up it and we continued on this way with the theory that we'd surely run into the others soon.

I was a bit surprised then to find myself at the bottom of Billy Billy again as I hadn't planned on getting that far and I knew that being there meant I should probably make another attempt to get up with out stopping. I was pretty nervous that I wouldn't make it, but with a good buddy next to me I thought maybe there was a small chance I could do it.

I slowed right down on the approach, and focused on my breathing and heart rate, consciously trying to recover before the incline.

As soon as it started to rise I just focused right on my front wheel. I thought- I know I might stop and its a hard hill but I'll try for slow and steady and I wont look up ahead so the length doesn't psyche me out again. Paddy stayed right with me to his credit (its actually pretty hard to climb slowly with someone if its not your right rhythm) and on we went. I didn't even dare look up to see if I could pass the point where I had stopped the first time, but eventually I knew I had passed it, and then suddenly there was Brad and Lisa descending and cheering because they thought there was no way I'd go all the way up Corin a second time - and then next thing we knew we were over the KOM line and it was starting to rain, but I didn't want to stop.

It's this point in cycling that I love - where it brings you to a place where you are completely in the moment - there's no failure, there's no anxiety, there's no worrying about the things you haven't done right, there's no yesterday and you aren't thinking about tomorrow or later tonight or even coffee -  its just breathing and pedalling, right here, right now, keep going because you are nearly there.

We made it all the way to the top of Corin, completing a second full rep when the first time round my head had me convinced I'd never be capable of that.

So for me, this is why I cycle - its the best way of looking after myself, it teaches me that when I think I can, I probably can, that I am capable of great, surprising and inspiring things and that I have great friends who will ride in the rain with me. My version of grace.

The other reason I wanted to post this is because this week in Australia it's mental health week, and something I always think is important is to remove stigma from feeling lame, because feeling lame is actually part of the human spectrum and its the fear about it that actually makes it ten times worse than it really is. Plus, I'm pretty sure everybody experiences shades of grey to varying degrees, and I wanted to share this experience with you, I'm pretty proud of my two Corin reps today.

Next time maybe I'll do three.