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.