Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Difference Between Life and Time Travel

I want to talk about progress.  And backsliding.  And how that is all a part of the process.

This year, I started having significant breathing issues.  I have dealt with asthma for a long time but it seemed like it was getting worse... and changing.  It eventually became clear that I was aspirating my stomach contents when I exercised.  This explained how I could be fine for the first 40 minutes.  It explained why I could never eat or drink easily in a training setting or just before.  This explained how some of my "asthma attacks" seemed more like choking and less like wheezing.  I have had GERD since I was a kid and now it had finally come home to roost.  There is a post or twelve worth of commentary on all of the things happening to try to bring that under control.  But that is not what this post is about.  It is about the side effect of one of the medications and its effect on my life.  And what that really means in the bigger picture.

Years ago I was REALLY overweight.  I've posted about this so you may already know that.  I lost weight while I was in martial arts training through diet and exercise.  I made a lot of mistakes (that post is a different post too) but got about 70 lbs off.  Then I blew out my knee really badly and ended up having to take an enormous amount of time off and never was able to resume my sport.  I slipped into a period of low activity and gained 50 lbs back.  I felt like a failure.  I slipped.  I felt like I went backwards to that heavier place and time.

Then I found triathlon and cycling and I got active again.  When the weight began to come off, the diet followed easily.  I lost the 50 plus 25 more.  But then I started getting sick and getting hurt because I wasn't actually fueling my body correctly.  I worked with a couple dietitians and under their guidance I put about 15 lbs back on.  Then I was the fastest I had ever been.  That was a magical period where I was the right weight, gaining power, fueling my workouts, and responding to training.

But I thought I was too fat so I went on a diet.  And gained 10 more lbs.  Ummm... howzatwork?  Again, I felt like I was failing but this time I did not see myself as a failure.  That is a pretty critical difference and the beginning of a really important shift.

Then I started trying to develop myself as a sprinter and focused more on performance and forgot about the weight for a while.  My weight leveled off and I got super strong.  I valued something higher than being "skinny" and began to see the advantage in the unique way that I am made.

Then this year happened and I got sick.  And then the breathing issues started happening.  I don't know what triggered what.. I only know where it got me.  It got me on a medication that can make it really easy to gain weight.  So I did.  I'm at a weight and size that I am uncomfortable with.  And I am trying my best to avoid feeling guilty or allowing it to erode my sense of myself as an athlete.  I'm not allowing myself to feel like a failure.

I'm at a weird place in the journey.  That is all.

Fluctuations happen.  They are normal.  What isn't healthy is feeling like the sky is falling because you've had a "backslide".  Why do we look at it like that anyhow?  I haven't gone backwards.  I am heavier because of the state of my health and activity right now.  I have not gone back in time.  I am not younger.  I am not driving the car I was driving when I was 245 lbs.  I am not wearing the same clothes I was wearing when I was 190.  I have not lost life experience.  Nope.  None of that.  Fluctuations, even big ones, are a part of life.  They are not failures or a reversal of achievement (I still did that thing, even if it seems more removed now) or a trip back in time to an earlier incarnation of me.

I will not allow this.... become this...

...and especially not THIS!

This is still a part of moving forward and if I choose to go forward more conscious and disciplined with my eating, I will gain less or lose more than if I don't.  Getting active again will be an incremental process as I heal.  The only consequence of some weight gain is that I will return to racing form a little later.  Some days that matters to me enough to really fight it.  (The medication increases appetite- it's given to anorexics to help them gain weight- so it can be a little maddening sometimes.  It makes me feel really hungry, really frequently.)  Other days, I really just don't want to feel insanely hungry and it is more important to me to be comfortable than 5 lbs lighter.  It was a helpful realization that the hunger was an artifice.  I am neither starving nor am I insane.   I am just here... now... not failing... and not traveling in time.

If I want to weigh less, I know what to do.  If I want to be fast again, I know what to do.  I also know that I am not in the best position to chase down those results right now and that will also change.  Or maybe it won't and I will fall madly in love with some other way of expressing myself.  No matter what, I'll go forward to do it because life is a one way trip.

Maybe your "backslide" is weight.  Maybe it is fitness.  Maybe it is financial.  WHATEVER it is, unless you have found a way to travel through time, you did not go backwards... SO STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP!!  You are here, now, and only have your present and future actions to affect change.  You know what to do.

So if you don't have one of these....

...Or one of these...
then you probably didn't go backwards!

I'm not the weight I want to be.  I am not at the fitness I want to be.  None of these things are permanent and keeping my head in a good place is the quickest way to the state of affairs I desire.  The most important thing is realizing that all of it is a part of the journey and none of it is the only thing that matters about me.  Each day will be another step and I will travel in a particular direction.  My choices and actions will determine if they take me closer to my current goals or towards some other heading.  Look forward and look up.  It's good advice when running or on a bike and in life in general.

I will ride my bike down this road as soon as I am able.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


From the 380 mile first date
...and theme of the year 2015

I posted exactly three times in 2014 and this will be my first in 2015.  Change has been the "reason for the season" since I last posted regularly.  This year was so difficult that I mostly felt the need for privacy.  But now I want to share because I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I see that this road is going some where amazing.

So. Much. Change.

This year has brought so much change.

It actually started in November of last year when I met a wonderful man who was as fast on a bicycle as he was intelligent.  We went on a 380 mile ride that had 18,000' of climbing and many miles of dirt roads because... how better to get to know someone than to be pushed to your breaking point in their company? :/
From the tour with Mr Fastandawesome

In December, the love-sick Duck went mountain biking with said fast and intelligent man, henceforth know as Mr Fastandawesome.  Because I'm not so savvy in the skills department, I toppled over at the entrance to a rock garden and accidentally put my hand out.  I tore a tendon in my arm which took me out of work for a while.  I was also diagnosed with advanced arthritis.  This news came at the same time as a call from a friend offering me an opportunity to get involved with a triathlon/endurance start up that would grow into a coaching and timing/events company.  I said yes.  What did I have to lose?  The next thing I knew I was being trained and prepped to start coaching athletes.  I lined up a mentor and before I knew it, I had my first athletes. :my new professional home.

My new professional colleagues

Then in January, my vaccinated self contracted whooping cough.  That had me laid out for two months.  If you have ever had whooping cough, then you know.  If you have not, it is hard to imagine how sick it makes you.

In March, I traveled to Mississippi for work and aside from one little blip in my health that sent me to the ER, I managed to stay pretty healthy.  While I was there had some very cool rides on the beach.  I was able to get some wonderful photos from that trip.  Upon returning, I went to my first stage race with my new team.  We did well.  Despite still being weak from the illness, I placed 2nd in the time trial, won the road race, and was 4th in the GC.  The team put 4 people in the top 5 of the GC and won each individual stage with a different person.  It was a great day to wear green!

Winning the sprint to win the road race at Corsicana

In April, I became sick during a stage race and had to withdraw in the final stage.  The next day, my beloved dog Wilbur was killed in an accident.  That night, my illness turned into a kidney/UTI infection and landed me in the hospital.  That was a weekend that took some time to recover from.  Meanwhile, the man I met had become a cornerstone of my life and cared for me and loved me through this terrible time.

Good Bye Little Man... I'll miss you forever.

In May, I was able to do start working a bit more but I was plagued by repeated asthma attacks.  It was getting terribly out of control.  I raced a few times in a local crit and on the track.  I had mixed result ranging from being very competitive to getting dropped immediately, depending on the state of my breathing on any given day.  My ability to train steadily declined and so did my fitness.  In the last 4 weeks leading up to the state TT where I hoped to defend my title, I was so ill that I was averaging about three hours a week.

The TX state championship finally arrived in June.  I finished the ITT mid pack with a sad time several minutes slower than the previous year.  The next day was the TTT and I was terrified that my body would betray me and I would let my team down.  But I held on.  We finished as a team and won the title.  I was a state champion for the second year in a row, but this time as a member of the winning team.... FRESH racing!

FRESH Racing on the podium!! TTT win!

That was my last race of the year.  I decided to take an indefinite amount of time off to heal and address my issues.  Over the summer, it became clear that my breathing issues were linked to stomach issues that I had made a lifetime career out of ignoring.  The stomach issues were likely reaching a crescendo because of the NSAID therapy I was doing for the arthritis.  I began to pursue answers in that direction as my health reached an all time low.  In the meantime, the coaching business was growing like a weed.  I found myself with more and more clients as my athletes racked up more and more podiums.  The business, iTri365, was a thing... a real thing... and I was starting to believe I had found my purpose.  I was also coming to believe that my ability to make a living braiding had finally reached its end.  I hurt too much, was too sick, and was no longer interested in leaving the wonderful man that I had met to wander around the country from show to show like a vagabond.

itri365 TRIBE!! 
During the month of July, Mr Fastandawesome and I took a vacation.  Like all things this year, the vacation was themed "Get As Far From The Comfort Zone As Possible"!  In other words, he took me to the top of the world!
Mt. Assiniboine

Top o' the Nub

August came and my break from braiding and change in approach to my health started showing some improvement.  Mr Fastandawesome raced the Leadville MTB 100 and I found some glimmers of my old self running crew for him.  It was an amazing experience!!  I found a bit of love and a bit of skill developing as I kept returning to the trails.  But my breathing was still bad and I was very weak.  Still, I figured I had to start back somewhere and I knew what it would take to come through it.  Fitness is no mystery.  It's simply a process.

Mr Fastandawesome being, well, fast and awesome!

In September, after we returned to Austin, I started riding a bit on the road and began a program of light running.  I continued to work with a GI specialist and we started considering a possible surgical fix.  That involved a series of tests to determine if I was a good candidate.  I made up my mind that I would take whatever time I needed and return to health... and racing... next season.  Since my deductible was now paid, I decided to also have my shoulder looked at since I had been dealing with pain and reduced range of motion for years.

I wanted to try the new S5 as the change in the geometry looked promising for me.  I borrowed a bike from the local shop and took it for a spin.  I went to the Veloway to test it in a safe place, free of cars.  As I rolled into the first turn during my warmup, the front tire exploded and I went down.


Ambulance ride hard.

Trauma ward hard.

I had shattered my eye socket and ruined my shoulder.  48 hours later I was in surgery having my face put back together.  My shoulder would not require surgery... or rather the MRI revealed so much arthritis that surgery would have a poor prognosis.  I also had ruptured my bicep tendon and torn my labrum. Not to mention lost a lot of blood.


I have been coming to terms with certain uncertainties.  I don't know if my vision will ever be normal again.  I may never regain feeling in my face.  I have some scars.  My shoulder injuries will take 6 months to heal to a state of pain-most-of-the-time.

I have arthritis in my hands, shoulder, knees, neck.... I will live with pain for the rest of my life.  I have scars, nerve damage, and plates in my face.  And I have met the most wonderful man I have ever known and he has stood by me through these difficulties unflinchingly.  I will never be able to make a living working with horses again.   And I have a great new job that I love.  Wilbur is gone.   And I am raising a delightful puppy named Sprout.  For every black cloud, there is more than a silver lining... there is a wide open door to the future.  I have seen my old life fall away and a new one that is better than I ever imagined growing in its place.

I have no regrets.  I keep looking forward and that is where I will go with this blog.

Where ever I go from here, I don't go alone.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Post From The Summit Of Mt Crazy.

"Oh, The Places You'll Go!"... Cervelo style!
I have really had a tough time lately dealing with the fact that I tried a different approach to diet and it did not work... I gained weight.  I gained some muscle (actually about 5 lbs of muscle) but I also increased my body fat percentage by 4%.  It was a gain that unravelled a years worth of hard work and I ended up feeling like a failure.  I felt so fat that I was a mini trauma every time I walked by a mirror.  Never mind that I was time trialing like a beast (the thing that I was training for and where I was seeing results), my climbing got worse (the thing that I was not training for) and that was suddenly the only thing that mattered.  I allowed my entire sense of self worth to fall off a cliff.

My OH-SO-RATIONAL response to it was to flip out and stop eating enough to support my job related activity and training. It was the 6 year old daughter of another braider that offered a jolt.  She made me a card for my birthday and it had a big picture of me on it.  She depicted me as a normal person... not the fat person I was seeing in the mirror.  Since that ACTUALLY came as a shock and I realized that I had definitely summited Mt Crazy again and was flying my flag from the top.  Yes, I gained some weight. Yes, it hurt my climbing. No, it did not spell the end of my ability to ride a bike or turn me into the slothful behemoth that I was imagining.  Maybe I could let myself off the hook a little and allow a little sanity to break through the clouds.  Time to head back down to base camp.

Sometimes the reality check comes from surprising places.
Nothing quite like seeing yourself through 6-year-old eyes.

After about six weeks of cutting my diet way back, I have gotten a little momentum in getting the pounds back off but I'm could do without getting sick, dizzy spells, and terrible fatigue.  I have enlisted the help of a friend, Susan of The Endurance Zone, who knows a little something about nutrition.  Rumor has it she even advises athletes on nutrition for a living. With her help, I am trying to get myself on a program that keeps supports my training without creating any big excesses.  I've over-corrected and need to level off again but at least I feel like I am back in control of the situation.

The good news is that I am back in Michigan and Little C has finally gotten his Bluff Rd photo opp.  Every one of my bikes has gotten to pose at the overlook on the Old Mission Peninsula. The Ninja Bike still needs his chance but this time I was riding with a friend and I finally got MY photo by the post!!

The photo spot! Little C takes his turn!

Me too!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time Trial Season: A Third Place Streak And The State Championship

After getting off to a bumpy start in road and criterium racing, I shifted my focus to time trialing until the Texas State Championship. Time trialing is definitely a comfort zone coming out of triathlon and it was a relief to throw myself in that direction for a while.  I decided to do as many of the Tyler 4 mile TTs as possible, one of the IronHaus 40K series, and then the State Championship.  Each TT gave me an opportunity to dial in technique, equipment, and pacing for the big race.
The Ninja Bike wearing race wheels for the first time!! SUPER SEXY!
Thank you to my tireless and patient coach, Brian, for the hookup.

A rain date gave me an extra racing opportunity and I was able to attend three of the Tyler 4 Mile series.  This is a race that I have done several times before... in fact, it was my first time trial ever.  It's a fast course with no turns. Just put your head down and hammer in a single direction for 4 miles.  If the wind is right, like it was the first time I ever raced it, you can see some stupid fast times.  Since that day, despite being faster overall, I had never been able to touch my initial time of 7:41.  This year, like last year, the wind was not a hindrance but not really helpful either... mostly gentle crosswinds with a slight push, particularly in the first of the three.

The first one went off (it was actually the second in the series but the first that I did this year) and it was the first time running it with a change in the locations of the start and finish lines.  I took the Ninja Bike (my trusty Cervelo P4) out and proceed to hammer like a damn fool.  It looked to me like I was on track to BLOW my old PR out of the water... right up until I saw the flagger near the old finish line and in my hypoxic state decided that I was done.  I sat up and coasted for a while.  Something didn't seem quite right and I started soft pedaling.  THEN I saw the real finish line.  OH CRAP!! I never really made it back up to speed and my PR effort was shot and I finished in 8:05.62.  I did finish well, first woman and third overall, not far behind a VERY fast couple of guys who are nearly untouchable in this race.

COOL! Third place!

The next race, however, I rode to the proper finish line and finished in 7:35.92.  PR shattered!! YES! The placings were the same.  First woman, third overall.

Oh, huh. Third place.

In the final race of the series for me (there is actually 5 of them), I shaved a few more seconds off bringing my time down to 7:32.65.  Still first woman, third overall and at this point my consistency had become a running joke!


I rolled out to IronHaus in San Antonio the next Saturday.  This was my trial run for everything, including the way I wanted to handle the travel.  I went to San Antonio the day before and stayed in an inexpensive room that I had booked online.  OOF! That was a misstep. The hotel and it's neighborhood were SCARY! I had left Wilbur home with a neighbor looking in on him and missed his company badly, especially his bark if someone tried to come near the room.  I woke up several times with nightmares, though I am not sure if they were related, and so I didn't sleep well.  I was a ball of nerves when I headed to the race course.

My good luck charm!

I realized that I have only ever done 40K as a part of a triathlon, and only a handful of times at that.  Pacing was going to be tricky.  After the start, I headed off like I was on fire and very quickly reminded myself that 40K was a LOT farther than 4 miles.  I keep telling myself "easy as she goes, it's a long way." Why I am invaded by colloquialisms during races, I have no idea, but there you have it and it worked.  I slightly underpaced and had a big kick left for the finish.  That was good because at the turnaround, I saw that the really fast woman that had started 1 minute behind me was, well, right behind me! In the end, I ended up third (again!! It was becoming a theme for the season!) behind some higher category women who's abilities command enough respect that I couldn't be anything but proud to finish in that company. I turned in a 61:31 (a 24.24 mph average) and was extremely happy with the effort, especially considering I felt that there was little room for improvement for the big race the following week.

I am doomed to third place.

The following Saturday was the State TT.  I felt a lot of pressure to do well as a lot of people were talking like I had already won it.  I knew anything could happen on race day and NEVER to get cocky about your chances for the top spot.

I remedied my mistake from the previous week and made sure that Wilbur could come.  Honestly, his presence has become a very steadying force for me and I was grateful for it the night before.  As I warmed up for the state TT, something that I miscalculated and hadn't really left enough time to do, I was doing long loops on the road near the start.  I was making my final turn and suddenly, the wheels shot out from under me and I was on the ground. I jumped up and did a quick check of the bike, put the chain back on, looked at the time... 8:15... my start time was 8:19:30.  I hopped back on the bike and headed down the road one more time to make sure everything was working.  I arrived at the start at 8:19:00 by my garmin.  Fortunately, it was 60 seconds behind official time because my chain fell off again.  I got back on my bike with 30 seconds to spare.

Completely unsuspecting here.

And the next thing I knew I was off!  The first thing I realized was that I was in far too big of a gear.  I struggled to push the pedals.  Once I got rolling, it felt better.  I love that part of the race and it helps me to find a good rhythm so I went ahead and let myself roll on that a bit to get my head in the game and off the crash.  I clicked down a couple more gears, then settled into the aerobars.  That is standard procedure for me and as soon as I am down, I back the gear off a couple of clicks until it feels good.

I pulled the shifter.


No response.  No tension.  It was like it wasn't even attached.  I was confused.  I had just been able to shift down the cassette into this MONSTER gear I was now struggling to push. I pulled up again.


The reality started to dawn on my.  I had 40K ahead of me, the first 10 miles would be into a headwind, the next few miles has some gentle hills, and the finish was uphill.. and I was STUCK in a big sprinting gear.

My brain went through some serious gymnastics.  I can't even begin to chronicle the myriad of thought running around in my head at that moment.  I tried the shifter a few more times to be sure (something I did many more times before the finish in a desperate hope for a miracle) but knew it was hopeless.  It was totally dead.

Then I did something that I am really proud of.  I made the decision to find out how much my legs really had in them.  I knew I could push this gear as long as I didn't let my speed and cadence drop too much.  I came up with a plan.  I thought that I might be able to shift into my small chainring and possible move into a smaller cog if I needed to.  I had that as an exit strategy so I would ride this thing like I was on a track bike, using cadence and shrugging into a more aerodynamic position to mimic having gears.  And I was going to ride this gear like I planned to be there.  NO slow mashing or rocking in the saddle.  Tight, strong, fast.  At least until burned through all of my matches and died completely.  Maybe by then I would have put enough time into the rest of the racers to stay on that podium.  Nothing I could do was going to make this 40K hurt less and I had already tossed the quitting idea out.  I was still there to win that thing.

I'm not going to wax poetic about how much it hurt. It hurt a LOT. As much as I was afraid it might.  I did reach that point where I really wanted that exit strategy.  I had managed to rationalize that if I could get just a little relief, I could totally spin home on my little ring fast enough.  I even pushed down on the left shifter to signal a switch to my small chainring.  Too bad that shift was useless too.  I was in so much pain that I was begging for my way out but too bad.  I was stuck with what I had ALL THE WAY TO THE END.  So I just kept hammering.

Ya know, cycling is finding funny way to teach me that my limits aren't what I think they are.  My time was 63:04.33.  Disappointing after the previous weeks performance but under the circumstances, not bad.  No matter what else happened (and it took hours to find out as results came in very slowly), I was happy with the way I had handled myself.

Another great part to the day was the people.  Almost all of my racing and training up until this point has been a solo venture, a lonely experience.  After a long drought, I have met some really great friends in this sport and found myself surrounded on that day by friends from both Austin and Tyler.  It was possibly the best part of the entire day.  I wouldn't have traded that for all my gears!!  It was the best feeling in the world!
LOOK! Something other than THIRD PLACE!

But as it turned out, that effort was good enough to win.  I had pedaled my broken bike all the way to the top of the podium and after the podium pictures, as we were stepping down, I heard the announcer say "Meet your new Cat 4 State Champion, Lora Popolizio".  I didn't realize anyone was still taking pictures as I did a little fist pump and mutter "f**k yeah" under my breath.  It was a good moment and a great way to break a third place streak!
The look on my face tells the whole story.

Seriously, a giant thank you to Coach Brian who is the reason I had the legs I needed to pull that bit of ridiculousness off.  Talk about overkill! I cannot express enough how happy I am to finally, at long last, put a championship race on the calendar... and not only make it to the start... BUT WIN!

Now back to the road bike and time to get that part right too.

And there you have it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Welcome Back, Duck.

I find it funny how I can want to... need to... write consistently for an extended period, then suddenly have absolutely no desire to put my experiences down at all. I guess the last 6 months have been such a period of change that I haven't  felt entirely sure of what to say or how to say it.
To bring you up to speed...

As you may know, I made the switch to cycling last year after I finally had to admit that my body and triathlon were just not getting along. I started racing in February and have done a number of time trials on the road and on the track, a crit, a stage race, and a road race. The crit went fine for a first time and I walked away with a midpack finish against higher ranked riders and a lot of knowledge.  The TT's have all been quite successful.. enough that I've started to be unhappy with winning the women's side and wanting to take the OA wins.  The road races both in the stage race and the stand alone have been utterly miserable experiences. I am finding that I am struggling, more than I ever did with triathlon, to figure out how to race these things and, more importantly, how to have fun.

I realized recently when I read the blogs of two people and realized that one was getting treatment for an unusual condition that sounded a lot like what the other was struggling to get diagnosed, that sometimes the value of a blog isn't in posting happy race results, bragging, or otherwise letting the world know how great you want them to think your life is (we have facebook for that) but in sharing your real experiences in the hopes that maybe someone else is able to identify with you.  If discussing the trial and difficulties (as well as the good stuff) makes a positive difference for one person then it was well worth the time to write it out.

So I'm dusting off this page and taking anyone that wishes to join me along for the ride.

I'm Duckie.  I am no longer a triathlete.  I am struggling to find my place in the peloton. I have legs like tree trunks and a great big monkey on my back named "fear".  But I love to ride my bike and I crave competition so giving up is just not an option.  I have to figure this shit out.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

New Things, Good Things, And One Sad Goodbye.

I've been a bit quiet lately.  Sometimes that means that the wheels fell off the bus, rolled down the road and I'm off chasing them.  Right now it means that everything is going really well and I'm frankly a little afraid to jinx it.

First off, I took a big risk and sold the P5.  Why? Because I had a motivated buyer, I felt that the bike was worth as much right then as it would ever be, and that there were some minor fit and handling issues that could possibly be improved upon should I find a used P4.  I looked.. I found.. I bought.. I sold.  I came out way ahead on the deal as I got a great price on the P4 and a great price for the P5.
Big C.. King of the Jungle.
I'm really going to miss you.

Big C and Little C... Quite a pair.

There were several weeks of angst on my part as a second guessed my decision which was based solely in logic and did not consult my formidable emotional side.  I agonized over everything from the names of my bikes (Little C doesn't make that much sense without Big C in the stable) to a very real concern that I might be over-facing (horse term: scare by presenting more of a challenge than the horse or rider is ready for) myself because my initial rides reminded me a little too much of the hyper-responsive, herky-jerky handling of the Felt that (with the help of eating pavement 3 times) ultimately scared me so badly I could barely ride at all.  Part of the appeal of the big bike was that it was so smooth and solid, partially due to the fact that it was so big.  I knew I had improved confidence and handling skills but the first time I almost wiped out because I couldn't get the water bottle out of the BTA mount (the moment of truth in my worst crash), I had some serious misgivings.  When the buyer put the money for the P5 through a week earlier than I expected, I almost lost it.  Then the day we met at the shop and he loaded my beloved in the car and drove off... yeah well, I'm amazed I wasn't bawling.

Sol's philosphy: "You can't be sad if you're tired.  KEEP PEDALING!"

But that day, Sol (shop owner and fit magician... truly the best in Austin and an patient mentor to the Duck) spent all afternoon with me, dialing the new bike and helping me make some decisions about which way to set it up (there is a lot to consider when someone walks in and buys your entire set up, including the wheels).  In the end, we decided to favor crank length and table decisions about wheels and power for later.  We got the new crankset on the bike and tinkered... and tinkered... and tinkered with the fit.  In the end, we dialed in everything but the front end because I know I am going to a clinic where we will be measuring aero data against power to decide how low the front can go before there is a power loss.  That is when the front end will be set to it's optimal position.

Sol: "I didn't say stop! KEEP PEDALING!!"

After a few days of bad weather, I finally got out on the road with the new beastie.  It still didn't have a name... mostly being called the new bike, or the black bike.... or a few times... Evil C.  With the new cranks- very short 155s- and the resulting stability through my hips, the squirrel-y-ness was gone and suddenly it was like riding a ribbon of black silk.  It was smooth, precise, responsive in an almost telepathic way.  The ride quality... unbelievable.  I was able to appreciate the beauty of the (obviously made of butter) hubs in the Campy wheels that came on the bike.  Honestly, I've never ridden anything like it.  The Campy components shift like silk... yeah, keep using that word... there's a reason.

155 cranks.. if they were much shorter my pedal wouldn't clear the chainrings!

I took it to a giant parking lot behind the horse show where I had been doing handling/cornering drills at the end of most of my rides on Little C (the road bike).  I have never been able to corner in aero at all.  Withing a few minutes, I was able to get confident in the new bike which handled like.... well, a lot like Little C.  In other words, like an extension of myself.  I did the drills a few times on the pursuits and then started trying them in aero.  By the end of that session, I knew the black bike (by this point I was calling it Evil C, the ninja bike.. SUPERVILLIAN) and I were going to be just fine.  I knew I had made the right call.

The Ninja Bike lounging after a day's work.
On another front, I have been feeling progressively stronger.  I am back working with a dietitian and am really seeing the results.  I have tightened up quite a bit and I am handling a full training load again.  It's not to say the road is without bumps.. got a cold, had some respiratory trouble from bad air quality at the horse show, missed a day when my neck spasmed up and the massage to fix it made me too sick/sore to train.  But what is missing is the general malaise, fatigue, and frequent crashes in energy.  I seem to be recovering, healing, and generally bouncing back from workouts.  It was like the last piece of this puzzle, my health, that I have been trying to solve for a few years now, has clicked into place.

One the road bike front, the handling skills are coming right along.  I get braver each day, I'm climbing well (for me), and descending in a much more relaxed and aggressive style.  I don't always nail the line through the corners but I am getting it much more often and the fear is getting left off the guest list more and more.

I also have been training a lot with a teammate.  Austin Bikes/Revenant team has a really, REALLY tough female state cyclocross champ on it's roster and she has been a very welcome addition to my training program.  For the most part, I do most of the pulling and except for hard sprints where I exceed 26-27 mph, she stays right on my wheel.  What is remarkable is that she does this on her CX bike with its KNOBBY TIRES!! She is soft spoken and humble, never quite acknowledging the fact that I would be a quivering pile of goo should I ever need to keep up with her on a ROAD bike.  Needless to say, her presence has been great for me.  It is inspiring, infuriating, and humbling all at the same time but the social component of a team sport has been the antidote for my (at times painfully) solitary lifestyle.

Snapped this while heading out with my Teammate.
We've had some beautiful days lately!!

So that is what is going on in the Duck Pond as 2013 comes to a close.  2014 will be my first year as a full time bike racer/roadie and I'm not sure what to expect.  The newness of it is exciting and I am not sure what to expect from a very different style of racing and tactics.  All I know is that it is forcing me out of my comfort zone and what I am finding there is that much of it suits me.  Let's see what I say about it on race day.  Right now, all the new experiences have me feeling like a kid in a candy BIKE shop!

Google's Christmas present to the Duck!!!
"Coach Brain" has been immortalized by their search engine!

And finally, I can't thank one person enough...  Coach Brain.  He has guided me through some tough times this year and never once let me down.  He has helped me to be a stronger, faster, healthier athlete.  He put up with 9 billion emails about purchasing that P5 only to have me sell it 9 months later and calmly responded to 9 billion emails about that, too.  He was right there for me when my body was letting me down, helping me put myself back together, and keeping me focused all the way through.  I don't think I would be anywhere near this happy point in training (and by association, life) without all of his hard work.  Thanks DUDE!! You ROCK!  Let's kick some ASS in 2014!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey With A Side Of Suffering.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Ready to roll, layered up..
 ..about to SUFFER!
Don't let the sunshine fool you the way it did me!

This has been a great couple of weeks for me.  I've been at home in Austin, enjoying the roads and the city (though the weather has been less than stellar).  I've reconnected with old friends and made a few new ones.  I spent the day eating turkey with my awesome neighbors.  I even got a deck compliments of the awesome folks at my RV park!

LOOK! I have a deck!
No photography skills... but a deck!  

I took a new-to-me bike for the first time and did a little  recovery spin today.  My legs told me they were on holiday and were not going to be answering calls.  I was to ride without them.  It was an enjoyable little ride and the one time I put in a request for power, my legs referred me to their answering service.  NOPE.  Big fat SORRY ABOUT YOUR LUCK!

Alright Blackie, lets see what you are about.

Why the attitude?  Well, keep reading.

Coach Brain, as I said before, put a little slack in the lines on this schedule and I am getting to stretch my legs.  There have been a couple of deliciously challenging workouts in the mix, though some were challenging for more reasons than just what was written.  There were a couple of interval sessions that really reminded how much I like to dig down and hurt.  You know, the crunchy ones where you end up shouting at your legs for trying to slow down.  (not that it takes much to get to that point these days!!) Still, those workouts... the ones that leave you in a crumpled heap... those are the ones I like the most!

Then there are another kind.  They test you, not because the effort is challenging but because the circumstances are.. like the long trainer ride.  I had a couple of those this week.  Coach Brain gave me permission to shorten it to a brief warmup and cool down, plus the main set.  That would certainly have made it more palatable but I finally realized that there are so many reasons for me to shorten or skip a workout, that I did not need or have the luxury of a cop out based on boredom.  The workouts got done in their entirety.

The trainer workouts paled in comparison to the outdoor workouts though.  With a horrid cold front pushing through.  I found myself riding in weather that I would normally leave to.. well, ANYONE else.  Again, with all of the trouble that I have had in the last couple of years, I feel like I have used all of my “get out of jail workout free” cards.  I layered up and headed out the door the moment it stopped spitting ice from the sky.  The first day was so painful, it inspired three days on the trainer as the worst of the front pushed through.  Then, I headed back out to see if I could freeze out the princess that seemed to be rearing her tiara-ed head.

Full finger gloves and arm warmers.  Yeah, that's all that's in my arsenal.

First was a hill ride with one of my Austin Bikes teammates.  It was a great ride with great company, a good pace, and one of those times that fighting a 30 degree, 20+ mph headwind up some big hills seemed more tolerable when you are not alone.  By the end of that ride, the cold was causing my back and quads to cramp pretty badly.  I was quite happy when that was over but equally happy that I had the guts to get out there and do it.  I finished the day with a body weight resistance workout and felt pretty solid about how the two weeks were shaping up.  Only, those cramps, that cold, that strength workout, those hills... they would come back to haunt me.

The next day was a 3.5 hour ride with a decent block of tempo work.  It was a couple of degrees warmer... like two.... so confident from the previous days ride, I headed out the door in the same layers that had worked the previous day.  I was fine.. for about 90 mins.  Well, sort of fine.  I caught a long red light in the first 15 mins of the ride and after that point noticed a strange sound coming from the front of the bike.  About an hour later, I was feeling like hell.  I knew I had a tailwind but I just couldn't make that bike GO.  My legs and back were starting to cramp up again and I felt HORRID.  I stopped to check out the sound only because I needed a rest.  The sound?  The front brake was almost fully engaged.  It had been since that light.  I was hearing (and smelling) the brake pads burning off the rim.  AWESOME.  After I opened the brake, I rode a little further, suddenly feeling like I had wings, then got a my turnaround and went into the wind.  It was like the brake was back on.  DAMMIT.


By the time I got to the tempo block, about 2 hours into the ride, I was really suffering.  My legs were dead and painful, my back was locked up, my feet and hands were blocks of ice, my face was chapped (nope.  Didn't think to bring chapstick.  Too obvious!).  I was looking at my power and it was showing numbers far below the suffer factor.  My cadence was horrible.  My legs were totally unresponsive and no matter how hard I tried to spin up to a higher cadence, even in an easy gear, it wasn't happening.  Same was true for applying any real force to the pedals.  Every pedal stroke shot pain through my knees and up my legs. My legs tendered their letter of resignation while I sucked down every bit of nutrition I had packed looking for salvation in a gel packet.  I got through that ride.  Every. Last. Hateful. Minute.   I was prepared to be proud of my fortitude but really, I was a little panicked that I had overdone it and it was going to cost me the rest of this training block.

I came in from that ride shaking.  My legs and back were tender to the touch they were so sore.  It had taken all the stubborn I could muster (and honestly, I have a LOT of "stubborn" at my disposal) and then some to finish the ride.  I knew I had found that hole that I like to fall into and hoped I had not gone over the edge.

Maybe it could be argued that I would have been better served aborting the workout but honestly, I think I wanted to remind myself that I can still get it done.  I did my best to salvage the situation with nutrition.  I shot emails to my coach and dietitian... (slightly panicked): What did I do?? What do I do??  Since they are both athletes and professionals, they kindly refrained from actually penning an eyeroll or facepalm and gave me some simple recovery tactics that basically amounted “eat, drink water, and go to bed... dum-dum!”

When I woke up today, I discovered something.  I hadn't died overnight.  So on this absolutely FABULOUS day, I took that new bike for a ride.  And (properly dressed for the weather) enjoyed every last second of it.  I am thankful to have something in my life that cleans the slate so gracefully.  I am grateful for the ability to ride my bike today.

Wilbur had other ideas on how cold should be handled.

Oh, and the new bike?  AWESOME.