Saturday, February 23, 2008

Day 6 - long ride

Today was the last day of camp and we had the choice of riding 85 or 65 miles with either the "fast" or "faster" group. It was cloudy and cool with a 40 mph wind; not the ideal riding conditions. My coach Terra told me to ride quality over quantity today. My legs were tired to start and I knew it was going to be a day of slogging through the miles, none of which would be particularly high quality no matter what the distance.

Guest coach and Olympic cyclist Rory O'Reilly rode with my group and he gave me a few tips. He said don't rely too much on my power meter instead learn to know how my body feels at certain effort levels so I can dial those in without any technology. He showed me how to descend efficiently on a rough surface. He showed the group how to effectively ride together into a 40mph headwind to help each other as much as possible.

About 50 miles in, we stopped for a lunch of Clif bars and Clif shot blocks. Attack of the sugar bombs. I wasn't feeling great and all I could think about was eating some real food like a nice omelette... or steak (I'm a vegetarian). I was in need of something besides sugar and did my best but then about mile 55 I melted down emotionally and started crying, which is a sign of nutritional bonking I have learned. I couldn't keep up no matter how hard I worked. Rory helped me get up the steep climb we were on and then I stopped at Jill's van and she gave me some cheese, soy milk, and nuts from her own personal stash. It didn't take long and I felt better. This gave me just enough energy to get to the 65 mile point, at which I bailed out, put my bike on the van, and rode the rest of the way back in the nice comfy van with Jill. This was the happiest moment of the day and I know it was the right decision for me. My legs were done. One other rider bailed with me.

Hunter had to leave camp a few days early because his mother had a stroke and it is good that he did because she passed away today. She was the cook at last year's camp in Bedford.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Day 5 - Watch Tour of California

Today was the Stage 5 Tour of California Time Trial in Solvang. We had a day off with no organized rides planned, which gave us lots of time to take in the race. I don't really follow professional cycling itself so I went into today not knowing much about any of the athletes or teams. I am ending the day knowing A LOT about who is who in the sport, how races work, how to spectate, and how things work behind the scenes. Since this was the time trial, it's really not too much different than watching the bike in a triathlon.

I woke up leisurely, ate my breakfast, and went to the hot tub to stretch myself as well as I could. Then I went out for an easy 75 minute spin on the time trial course. It was raining on and off so my bike got all dirty and I got covered in mud. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth all the cleanup time for such a short ride.

Our hotel is about a block from the finish line of the time trial and the festival. I spent a lot of time at the festival going to all the vendor booths and talking to people. Some of the highlights were seeing all the Zipp wheels at the Zipp booth, looking at the Slipstrem Felt DA team edition bike at the Felt booth, seeing Chris McCormack's Specialized TT bike that he rode at IM Hawaii this year, and just being saturated with all the bike excitement and energy. The Herbalife booth was having a contest on their computrainers to see who could have the fastest 1/4 mile sprint time. I gave it a shot and posted a time of 29.81 sec - my average power was 360 watts which was higher than anything I have done all week at camp! Funny how I did that on a badly fitting bike with platform pedals and in jeans with no warmup. Well it turned out that at the end of the day I missed women's 5th place for a prize from Rudy Project by only 0.1 seconds!!! Maybe my new specialty should be sprinting in street clothes.

The race itself was totally inspiring. I got right up to the front at the starting platform and saw all the pros preparing themselves from less than 10 feet away. It was awesome to see their routines and their bikes. All the top guys wear radios packed in the tip of their aero helmet so they can get feedback from their following car. Who knows what else you could store in that helmet. Taken out of context, time trialists look pretty goofy with their lycra suits, pointy hats, and tricked out bikes. Almost all of them used a disc wheel on the back and deep wheel on the front. Today was the first ever real life racing test of the Powertap on a Zipp disc wheel and will determine the upcoming release schedule for it. The most common bars I saw were the Easton Attack TT and the Zipp Aero Vuka. As the athletes were in line to start I saw them massaging their muscles, doing deep breathing, stretching hamstrings, flipping through their gears and getting it to the right one to start, and sitting down to focus. The focused calm is exactly how it needs to be done.

The finish line was very close to the start so it was easy to jump from one to the other. As they came in one by one, they were moving so fast you could blink and miss them. The crowds were at least 4 deep down the shoot so it was a little hard to see. They had some large screen monitors with live course footage going and finish line closeups so it was almost easier to watch that. I hung out with Patrick from the camp and he's an expert on this stuff. I got filled in on details of all his favorite athletes. He pointed out small details of form that distinguish the top time trial specialists and was able to answer all my questions about what was going on.

All in all, it was an awesome day. We finished it off with dinner at a nice restaurant and as we were eating the entire team Rabobank came in. This may as well be the Tour de France. They got me, I think I am on my way to becoming a cycling nut.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Day 4 - Time Trial

Today's ride was two laps of the Tour of California time trial course. Lap one was an easy group ride to get familiar with the course. The second lap we did an individual time trial. This is my event and the rolling course was a lot like Wisconsin so it suited what I am most used to. Some parts were flat, some parts had short rolling hills, and there were a few big climbs and descents.
I loved this. I love being out there mostly by myself pushing as hard as I can. It felt like a triathlon. I set a personal best for this distance today (13 miles) and I wasn't even using any aero stuff, so all this training is paying off. Today is Colleen's 48th birthday and my side goal was to go under 48 minutes no matter what... no problem there. Party down.

I got off the bike and immediately went out for a 6 mile run. Amazingly enough, I felt great. I am tired overall but my run muscles feel good. I am lower on protein and sleep than usual but somehow my body is able to knock out workout after workout. I love how I feel when I get to this part of the year when my fitness base is so good that this is possible.

Hunter's mom had a stroke so he had to go home early and now Adnan is running the camp. We are getting to the end and have two less intense days ahead. The hard stuff is done.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Day 3 - lots and lots of sprints

I have never done sprints before today, but today was an epic introduction. We went out to a road with very slight incline and did 3 small ring sprints, 6 big ring sprints, 2 team lead outs, and 2 race finish scenarios. These are killer hard efforts but oddly I am feeling stronger as the week goes on even though my legs are getting progressively tired. Adnan says that is common for endurance people.

The small ring sprints were the easiest because I like high cadence stuff. I got my legs up to 136rpm. I have trouble standing during sprints and even more trouble leaning out over my front wheel but that will take some practice. In the lead outs it only worked with me as the front rider, since I was the slowest rider in my group. Basically I would sprint as long as I could to start pulling the paceline and then pull off and let them go. Of course the rest of them would have been going at a moderate pace at that point. For the race scenarios my job was to sprint out and get the other team to chase me and then have my teammates stay on their wheels as I dropped back. I put out my best effort of the day on these and I pushed it so hard that I tasted blood in my throat for a second. It really hurt but our team won. For the first run, my chain fell off in the middle, I had to stop and fix it then get back on my bike and I still was not the last rider in. Like I said, I really pushed it to the maximum. The supposed "cooldown" ride back to the hotel was a threshold tempo ride for me and I continued a strong effort for those last 10 miles.

Things are getting better as everyone in the group gets to know each other and the egos settle down. People are starting to get tired. I'm learning how to do what I need to do and still be a part of the camp. It is totally geared for the guys, which is annoying at times, but it allows me to work really really hard... like they'll say, roll into the sprint at 28mph... ok, what if 27mph was the top speed on my last sprint?

The team things were good today because I made sure I was given a role that would suit what I am capable of. I went on a short run this morning and my run muscles are feeling good. I listened to music to get myself excited for the day. The lunch situation was bad today so I got myself out of there and went to the natural food store and had a delicious lunch there by myself. [they took us to a wine tasting literally 20 minutes after our killer hard ride, and the lunch consisted of the same meat and cheese sandwiches on white bread that they have had every single day... i don't drink alcohol at all, but even if I did I would not be drinking within the first 30 minutes after a hard 3 hour workout when my body wants carbs and protein. why aren't they serving us athlete food with some nutrients? how do they expect us to recover?]

I had a good nap this afternoon and am feeling ok. Tomorrow is a 15 mile time trial, which I am thinking of as a sprint triathlon without the swim and run :) Maybe I will do the other two events on my own to complete the day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Day 2 - big climb

It was a new day today. I regrouped mentally and had a completely different experience than yesterday. I got my own compact crank on and my own powertap fixed. I had a plan for how to approach the day and my technical issues were gone. The ride today was 45 miles with a steep 12 mile climb up Mt Figueroa. My plan was 150 watt warmup (no higher no matter how fast the group goes), give my best threshold effort for the climb, then see what I have left and do a 120-160 watt cooldown to finish the ride. Hunter told people to use the first 20 minutes of the climb to do a threshold test. I chose not to do that because I didn't want to use up all my energy and not have anything left for the remaining 1:30 of the climb. That proved a good strategy because the hill was hard. I felt calm all day because I knew I had a backup plan if the group thing didn't work out - do what I need to do for me alone ignoring social expectations and don't care what anyone else thinks. This is pretty much how I approach life so I know it works.

The group stopped to rest when we arrived at the base of the hill and I kept going. This gave me a good 10-15 minute lead on everyone else. I knew it would only be a matter of time before each of the guys came by me, and yes, they all did. This was kind of fun because I got to say hi to everyone. Adnan told me this climb would be easier than Mt Lemmon in Tucson, or Volcano in Hawaii, but I disagree. This was steeper than either of those and for sure the hardest climb I have ever done. It kept going forever and took me 1:45 to complete. My speed was 6-7mph for a lot of it and in my easiest gear my cadence was 55. With my head start I was the first female to the top and to the bottom. The views were really something... we were above the clouds. We rode by Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch on the way down. I was not the last one back today. The lunch was basically over and the pizza was cold, but oh well. I sat on the floor during the presentation, stretching, using my Stick, and eating the fruit and hummus that I brought for myself.

All in all it was a good day. I rode most of the day alone and did exactly what I wanted to do. I feel so much more comfortable on my own rather than riding with a group. When I am by myself there are no weird speed social dynamics, and I enjoy the ride a lot more. Triathlon seems to suit my introvertedness a lot better than group riding.

The dinner tonight was strange... a casino buffet. No vegetarian protein to be had. Most people were disappointed with it. I don't get why they are not giving us athlete food that helps recovery. Well, at least I had no trouble getting full tonight. I ate a load of vegetables. I had a nice time talking to a few of the other campers.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Day 1 - hilly "easy" ride

I get to be a guinea pig tester for the new Quarq power meter! The unit attaches to the spider of the crank arm, and the head unit is a Garmin 705 (sweet!). They are similar to the SRM in how they work. I also have my Powertap installed at the same time. Jim, the owner of Quarq will be comparing the data that I get from both. It's pretty awesome that I get to be a tester before these are even available on the market. The only slight downside here is that to install the Quarq I had to switch out my compact crank for a standard, which means I won't get my easy gear on all these hills. ... but I will get the extra hard gear for the downhills. The other campers are a bit jealous that my bike setup was perfect for me to be a tester.

I am back from our first ride, eaten, showered, and now sitting down to releax for a while. It was 45 miles today with a few good climbs and lots of rolling hills. It was a beautiful ride despite the cloudy haziness of the day. I was pretty much in back for the entire ride, with some long stretches by myself. Sometimes on the flatter parts I was able to stay with the group. The standard gearing proved problematic so I am going to switch back to my compact and opt out of the Quarq testing. It was much better than the powertap though, always there and with very similar numbers, and the large color display on the Garmin makes the Powertap seem downright primitive.

I had a complete emotional meltdown in the middle of the ride and had to stop and lay on the ground and cry for a while. I couldn't breathe to keep going. Adnan, one of the coaches, stayed with me to finish out the ride. I think all the stuff I have gone through in life in the last 6 months came out when I got dropped on a big hill. Things about being at this camp alone as a rider this year while remembering being at last years camp as a spouse visitor are coming up painful. After my meltdown, I finished the ride very strong averaging around 18. I've cried a lot today and feel quite vulnerable. Hunter came up to me at lunch (after hearing about it from Adnan) and said "Remember, we are here to train. We are here to train." I'm sure he has a good idea what it is all about, though I was vague with the details to Adnan.

I am doing my best to be kind to myself and non-judgemental. I am letting the emotions be there. Even though I am not as fast as everyone else, I look at my watts and know what is a good effort for me. If I am sustaining above 180 watts then I know I am putting out the best effort I can. It would be stupid to try to maintain a z4-z5 effort to keep up with people because I won't last long doing that. Adnan assures me that on day one people go out fast to establish a group "hierarchy" and by the end things are a lot more evened out because they get tired and then the endurance riders are still going just as fast as they were on day one. So I am just going to stick in there and do each day at the watts that I can do.

I noticed that the guy with the most expensive stuff is one of the slower male riders and he has bad bike handling skills. People with big (annoying) egos can be totally insecure on the inside. And then there's me with my heart on my sleeve bringing up the rear end but using probably at least as much emotional strength to stay there as the front person is using physical strength to stay in front. Things come out even in the end no matter the path each person takes to get there. I feel calm in that.

Coaches notes: I need to tilt my hips forward more so that I am using my glutes (imagine that Terra!), and I need to keep my upper body down and relaxed. Basically... my running weaknesses are also my bike form weaknesses. Yeah, and the mental stuff too.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

arriving at bike camp

I flew from Austin to Solvang California today for a week of cycling camp. This is a complete and total luxury that I am treating myself to. I am taking an entire week off from work and all I have to do is train like a professional cyclist in a spectacularly beautiful location. Sometimes when I stop and think about how lucky I am, I can't really believe that I am this lucky.

I have moments of sadness wishing that I had someone to share all of this with. I have moments of feeling almost guilty that I get to experience the beauty and joy of being here with the only purpose of riding my bike. Solvang is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been with its lush green, its colorful flowers, mountains, valleys, farms, vineyards, stunning views in every direction, and friendly biking roads. The town itself is quaint like a small village in Denmark.

The biking looks like it is going to be tough. I am going in with a naiveity about exactly what elevation changes we will be covering and what the routes are for each day. Do I really need to know or can ignorance be bliss until the moments when my quads are screaming for relief? I am only thinking about tomorrow, and only in enough detail so that I know roughly how much nutrition I need to put in my bottles. I don't want to overthink or worry about any one day. I have done hard rides before and I can do this. I plan to give it my best effort at all times and I will only judge myself based on knowing if I gave it 100%. I am not concerned with my skills relative to other riders because I am at where I am at right now and this week is about me getting stronger and learning about being a cyclist. This may be easier said than done, but I intend to make it an important mental practice this week.

Tonight I had dinner with the other campers and got a chance to meet everyone briefly. I think I do come in with the advantage that I have been riding outside a lot recently. Some people here have bikes and wheelsets that cost more than my total net worth including my car, bike, and all of my savings. If I were a white male in my 40's maybe I would have that too, but even though it can be a bit intimidating I think I am doing ok for a 30 year old single woman. I feel very lucky just to have the chance to be here.