Thursday, May 31, 2007
But that is next week. This week, this is about a ride that made an impact with me and reminds me of just why I love cycling so much. More recently, I experienced a run that allowed me to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the California coast in finer detail than a bike ride would provide, and reminded me that running, too, can be fun. :)
The Amazing Ride took place on Sunday, May 20, 2007. We were slated for a 68 mile ride that would involve much climbing and...dirt. Yes, dirt...on road bikes (one of my greatest fears). In addition, this ride had a climb on a road called Sweetwater Springs Road (comes off of Westside Road, a beautiful road through the Russian River Valley) - known for grades of 20% and so steep that apparently when Pat (known in our bike group as "The Spinner" because he spins up hills like nobody's business and makes climbs look EASY) attempted it 3 years ago he had to get off his bike and walk it. No wonder I was concerned about what I was getting myself into.
We met up at Larkfield Shopping Center in the northern part of Santa Rosa at 5:45 a.m. so we could roll out by 6 a.m. By 6:07, we were on our way headed northwest out past the Schultz airport and on our way to Westside Road. On our way, I marveled at the fact that one of the toughest rides of the year so far had drawn 9 riders - a record for our group! Typically there's 4 or 5, sometimes 6. But 9?! Maybe we ought to do hard rides more often...
We'd been warming up our legs and spinning along, catching up on the latest with each other when suddenly there it was...the turn to Sweetwater Springs Road. I joked how, the last time I'd been out with Lee and Tim, we'd passed by it and I briefly turned my bike onto it and made a quick loop, pronouncing "I rode on Sweetwater today!" This time, however, there was no loop. We made the turn, and I noticed everybody slow to a stop. "What're you guys stopping for?" "Piss break" one of my male companions replied (when you're the only chick in the group, you get used to it). "Oh" I said, with a tone that implied "okay, well I'll just stand here and whistle while you guys do your thing, since I can't."
We were just about ready to roll out when an SUV began to drive onto the road. "What the...?" We were all dumbfounded as to who in their right mind would want to drive up Sweetwater. The car pulled over at the turnout and we began to joke "yeah, that's right dude, you definitely made a wrong turn." As I clipped into my right pedal, I heard a noise behind me. "HEY!" I turned around and there was David - ready to ride with us! His wife Anna had driven him and he was hurriedly getting his bike out of the car. Talk about TIMING!!! He had gotten the start time wrong and had every intention of getting the Sweetwater ride in. Ten riders strong, the real journey had begun.
Sweetwater begins gently and beautifully. Couple rollers but gorgeous wide-open countryside that makes you forget how close to civilization you really are. I got a head start on the group because I wanted to focus on what was ahead of me and I knew many of them would catch me eventually - might as well enjoy the lead while I had it!
After awhile, the open road began to head into a more canopied area of oak trees. The group began to get closer together and pretty soon, the climbing would start. I counted the number of riders and only counted 9. Who was missing? I realized it was Matt. I was near the back anyway and told David to go ahead - I wanted to wait and make sure he hadn't experienced a mechanical that would require us to go back down after we'd made it to the top. However, about 30 seconds later, Matt came around the bend. "Just wanted to make sure you hadn't had a flat or something!" I said. "Nope, just wanted to climb those small hills slowly so I can be ready for the big ones," he replied. We rode on and I admired the beauty of the trees around me as they changed from oak to redwood and everything was still silent. We hit the hill and not long after the climbing began, we hit a patch of dirt and gravel.
My first reaction as this hill pitched steeper was to stand up. My back wheel began to slide out from under me and spin without traction. "Sh** Sh** Sh**!!!! OH MY GOD! SH**!" were the words that flew out of my mouth. Matt yelled at me to "sit down and keep your weight over your back wheel!" I sat down, no less fearful that I was going to crash and never be able to get back onto my bike on this huge hill.
Slowly grinding up the hill, I managed to make it out of the dirt, but still slightly hyperventilating. As my breathing became more relaxed, Matt gave me a quick lesson on riding on dirt and told me that if I remember nothing else, to keep my weight on the back wheel. Okay.
From there on out, the climbing continued (but no dirt!). At times I simply imagined myself on a stair master with the highest level engaged, and it was all I could do to keep my bike moving forward. I had to weave in a snake-like fashion from the left-right-left sides of the road so that I could pick up some momentum. I had never been on anything so steep, and my bike does not have that third ring that would have been so helpful in a time like this. Still, I thought "okay, this is tough, but doable. What about the part that Pat had to walk up? When does that start?"
The climb reminded me a lot of the climb out of Fairfax up to Bolinas Ridge (I believe known in parts as Alpine Dam). I simply put my head down and kept climbing, focusing on keeping my feet light, my legs spinning (or what was an attempt to spin...I think my cadence averaged 50 rpms, if that, and i was doing about 4 mph!) and enjoying the gorgeous scenery around me. For all the difficulty of that climb, it was cool, shady, silent and serene, and the towering redwoods that surrounded me were inspiring. Looking back (even hours after the ride), it's difficult to remember how long it really took or even how difficult it was. Now it doesn't seem so bad. Maybe because I like to climb, or maybe because I can just focus on what I'm doing, not how miserable I am (then again - I really was never miserable except on the dirt, which scared me).
Before I knew it, I could see a rider up ahead. I was gaining ground and coming from last to catch somebody! Rounding another turn, I saw it was Jim (aka Custer). Unsure of how much further we had to climb, I decided to bide my time - it wasn't a matter of IF I would catch him, but WHEN. In spite of my eagerness, I just focused on turning my pedals over and keeping a very consistent pace.
As I continued to gain headway on Jim, I began to see some sunlight. Off to my right, the trees suddenly opened up. There - that - was my reward. It nearly took my breath away and tempted me to get off my bike and savor it for a few seconds (damn that competitiveness in me). I only wished I had a camera with me to post it here, but this was the best I could find on the internet:
I know, very small. Doesn't even do it justice, but if you can imagine emerging from a canopy of trees and immediately looking out to a beautiful valley below and beyond to mountains on the other side of the valley - it was absolutely breathtaking.
"YES!" I thought. That was the moment - there's one on every single ride I do in the North Bay - where I think "this is why I got up early this morning. This is why I drove my butt all the way up here. This is why I do this." I would do it over and over again just for that. To boot, you could even see some colorful hot air balloons soaring over the valley as well.
That view gave me just the push I needed to close the gap between Jim and I. However, before I knew it, I began to hear voices up ahead. Was this really the top? Sure enough, about 100 yards ahead of us, the group was gathered waiting for the rest of us. I had to catch Jim! I stood up and began my attack. Just as I was about to jump past him, he looked back and easily realized my intention. "Oh no you don't!" he said. "DAMN YOU!" I yelled back. We raced to the top, pretty much tying. "I was trying to be sneaky," I said with a grin, "but I STILL caught you!" High fives from the group all around. Before we knew it, we were 10 again and ready to head down the other side.
Normally I'm on the less conservative side of descents, but this one was unfamiliar to me and very steep in some parts. I decided that I'd rather play it safe than take a turn too quickly and end my ride early. An awesome descent nonetheless, and I vowed to ride up Sweetwater many more times so I could get to know it and take some faster turns.
Before I knew it, we were on Armstrong Woods Road in Guerneville, headed out to 116 where we would then turn right and continue heading west, west, west.
We stopped at a really cute bakery in Duncan Mills to refill our water bottles. I love walking into a cafe as a group - it makes me feel like such a badass! ;-D
Onward from there and I experienced a portion of 116 I'd never driven or ridden before. It is just so beautiful out there - the road is lined with redwoods and you feel like you're up at camp somewhere. The air is crisp from the ocean just 15 miles away, yet so invigorating I even pulled the train a couple of times as we pedaled our way out to Hwy 1.
Upon reaching Hwy 1 (in a town called Jenner), we made a left and almost immediately made a left again back inland on a road called Willow Creek Road.
This would be the infamous dirt road everybody had been speaking of. About a mile in, the dirt began and would not stop for at least 5 miles. Initially it was flat, and so I began to relax a bit. The other thing is that there's a difference between dirt and gravel - dirt you can still get some traction on.
The difficulty began when the road began to ascend up the hill. I was in the front 3 people and settled into a nice climbing pace. No racing here, just intent on getting through it. Things went on like this, and I began to really feel better about being on dirt. A few skids here and there didn't faze me quite the way they used to, and I realized I was becoming more confident in my bike handling skills.
John soon sped past me as he tends to do. However, not too long after he passed me, we reached the first of "The Sisters." These were steep (STEEP) gravel pitches that, on a road bike, were impossible unless you managed to stay on the very left side of the road (the right was a drop off). I saw him eventually get off his bike and walk it up, so I decided to save myself the trouble and got off immediately. Brian rode past me and I shouted some words of encouragement at him. Maybe I could've done it with a triple crank, but not a double (though Jason M. is the MAN and successfully got through both Sisters - then again, he's done this many times).
The second Sister followed shortly after the first, and this time I (unsuccessfully) tried to ride up it. No luck. I immediately dismounted and walked my bike up the steep grade, sweating, breathing hard and realized that I'd hit a weak spot: I could hear some negative thoughts floating around up there. "Ugh, how much more of this garbage?" I thought.
After climbing back on my bike and a few switchbacks later, the thought repeated itself. Was this really how I felt? After all these miles, sweat and energy - I was reduced to thinking "how much longer?"
Come ON. I told myself that thoughts like that were unacceptable. I could not think that way because if I did, I'd NEVER get through this, and if I did, I'd be miserable. Cycling is NOT miserable.
I repeated Kevin's mantra to myself. "Pain is the weakness leaving your body. Pain is the weakness leaving your body."
No, that's not the right one. I wasn't in pain. I was feeling fatigued. Tired of the dirt. Tired of climbing through dirt. Tired of switchbacks.
But just because I was a little tired didn't mean I couldn't enjoy it. "This is NOT a race," I told myself. "You're not out to beat ANYBODY." I was still well ahead of a few other of the guys, so what did it matter anyway? This climb was MY climb. Taking a moment to look around me, I took a few long, deep breaths and savored the smell of the clean air. Again, I was enveloped in a canopy of redwood and oak trees. Bugs were flying around. Sunlight filtered through the trees. Things were still. My next thought was slightly improved but still not where I wanted my mind to be: "This would be so PERFECT to run through. I would enjoy this so much more if I were running."
I allowed the thought and then decided not to have any more of that. I was going to focus on each section. Live in the moment. This was here and NOW. Right NOW. Enjoying this piece of road, not thinking about how many switchbacks remained, and just focusing on deep breathing, allowing oxygen to reach every single muscle in my body so that my body could do what it needed to do. I focused on enjoying the power of each of my legs with every pedal stroke, keeping my arms light, and feeling my stomach rise and fall with each deep breath I would take.
Never, in all the time I've been cycling, have I ever achieved such a state of mental focus and meditation. It was brilliant, and I was so incredulous at how much my mind opened up to allow the positive thoughts to come flooding back in. Suddenly, I was thankful for my strength. I was grateful to be out in nature. I was happy at my accomplishments thus far. The list went on...
John and I reached a gate. We hopped off our bikes, lifted them over the gate and climbed through it. About 50 yards later, the road became paved again. "I don't think I've ever been SO grateful to see pavement!" I exclaimed. John was not so happy, but I was gushing with excitement at our accomplishments so far that day.
Eventually we reached a three-way stop where a few of the other guys were waiting for the rest of us. The first words out of my mouth were "WOW, I DID IT!" Jason M. congratulated me and then said "now, was that so bad?" I had to admit, it was the most difficult thing I'd ever done on a bike. "I supposed I'd do it again, now that I know what to expect," I said.
We turned left and began our descent down Coleman Valley Road into Occidental. As the trees zipped past me, I grinned with delight. This was truly what riding is all about. Hitting a wall and overcoming it.
We stopped at the store in Occidental. Sometimes, Coke has never tasted SO GOOD. Mmmmm, Coca-Cola! Unfortunately, something had happened to John's bike back on the dirt and he was trying to identify what the problem was. We didn't get going again until about 15 minutes later, which was far too long after riding that far and doing that much climbing.
As we headed out Graton Road and up the hill, my legs were screaming. I had nothing left and really doubted my ability to hang with the crowd. "I just think I'm gonna have to do this at my own pace and let them go ahead," I thought. My legs just felt so...dead!
Brian was struggling, too. He, John and I labored up the hill, and caught a break on a nice quick descent down the other side. I looked up and the rest of the group was riding away in a pace line. Miserably, I thought "Oh no! Now I'll NEVER catch them!"
Oh, the power of the mind. As we rounded the corner, I'm not sure what it was - the sprawling vineyards around us, the bright sun making its way up into the sky, the accomplishments we'd already made - but I made up my mind that we were going to catch them. We started as a group and we'd finish as one.
I stood up and as I rode next to Brian, I yelled "Come on! Let's go catch them!!" I jumped ahead of him, allowed him to jump on my wheel, geared up to my big ring, and put my legs into high gear. Pulling us along at 23 mph, constantly looking back to make sure Brian was hanging on, we began to make headway. The group was getting closer. Using this as my inspiration, I continued to push it. We were SO going to catch them.
Tim looked back and saw us gaining. He dropped back from the group, and pretty soon we latched on to his wheel. "Ready?" he asked. "HELL YES!" I said. In no time at all, we'd caught the rest of the pack.
We had about another 12 miles to go, but flat from there on out, with one grunt through the town of Graton. That grunt burned like no other, but I was so charged from it being such an awesome ride, I paid my legs no mind.
When we finally made it back out to River Road for the last few miles, the group separated again - about 5 and 5. I took charge and pulled for awhile, trying to get us up to the rest of the group, but as Tim put it - they were "cooked ducks." Okay, I got it. We all regrouped at the stoplight before the last "hill" - the overpass over Hwy 101.
At that point, even a tiny overpass felt miserable. Just had to get over and we were done! The rest of the group headed back to Larkfied, and Tim and I made a pit stop at the new Badass Coffee in Santa Rosa.
Similar to the Coke, iced coffee had never tasted so incredible.
We sat and recounted the moments of the ride, giving kudos to everybody involved, and enjoyed the peace that comes with post-ride coffee. 66 miles, 3500 feet of climbing, 4 hours of riding. This was truly one of the hardest rides I'd ever enjoyed, and I savored every moment.
I thought I'd end my incredible ride post with an incredible view of the Russian River Valley - this is what I experience on many a bike rides - the fog and the views. It's easy to love cycling when you love your surroundings.
Onward to Tahoe!
Monday, May 21, 2007
May 21, 2007
Upon returning later that day at 1:00 p.m., Trejo noticed the smell again and made a decision to investigate. What started as a routine inspection turned out to be a full-on excavation of the NBTF refrigerator. After removing several bags and closed containers, Trejo discovered a number of items as possible contributions to the rancid smell that had been emitting from the fridge.
Artifacts pulled from the depths of the fridge included:
-Several bags of frozen old carrots
-Zachary’s pizza, estimated to be aged at least 1-2 weeks
-Contents in a Styrofoam container that appeared to be leftovers from a previous meal, however, the consumption date was clearly past due based on the color of the food, in addition to the smell that then caused the usually strong-stomached Trejo to gag.
-Grapes that had begun the aging process – may have hinted that a winemaker among the staff had inadvertently placed their grapes in the fridge instead of a barrel to be aged
-A cracked egg whose contents had hardened and would be considered by most to be ‘rotten.’
-A plastic container whose contents, after close inspection, appeared to be a square of lasagna, however this remains unverified due to the fact that a dark green-blue layer had formed over half the square, rendering it unable to be completely identified. The contents were disposed along with the container.
-A blue lunch bag was removed and upon opening, a new discovery was made about the aging process of strawberries left over time in a closed, cool place. A white film had developed over all the fruit, and a brown liquid became apparent when the bag was opened.
-Several containers of cream cheese that were well past their due date (staff should be informed of the fact that while many cheeses are aged, cream cheese is not one of them).
-One rotting tomato whose skin had become wrinkled and soft.
-One plate of unwrapped butter.
Trejo, disgusted and in the interest of safety for all NBTF staff, immediately ‘chucked’ all items that had clearly been forgotten and were no longer suitable for human consumption.
“I have to admit, it was pretty nasty, and while I don’t gag at a lot of things, the food in the Styrofoam really got to me. Still, it was oddly intriguing to see this food aging process that I’ve never really seen before – certainly not in my own fridge,” Trejo remarked.
No other employees were available for comment, though this discovery is sure to inspire discussion about new policies to implement regarding refrigerator use.**********************************************************************
Okay, so I tried to be funny about all of this, and I am definitely one to have a sense of humor – hence my taking the time to write all of that. HOWEVER – that was seriously one of the most DISGUSTING things I have ever seen, and not even in COLLEGE did my fridge ever look like that.BUT since I am not one to merely complain, I will also offer a suggestion:
I am going to get some stickers and a pen to be placed in the kitchen. If you are placing items in the fridge, please use them to mark the date and your initials. At the end of the week, older items will be cleared out. This will happen on an ongoing basis.
If you have any better ideas, please let me know.
I was proud of myself for using humor instead of nag to convey my disgust and irk. I just don't get how people leave that much stuff in the fridge - ESPECIALLY WHEN IT'S A COMMUNAL FRIDGE! Ugh. But my ingenuity seemed to pay off in the short-term - people actually responded with enthusiasm and gratitude to my e-mail. Let's see how well it works over the long term...
My enlightened state must have something to do with my bike ride yesterday, which was truly one of the hardest and most amazing bike rides I have *ever* had. 66 miles, 5 of them dirt, 3500 feet of climbing, and some of the most gorgeous views of Sonoma County and the Pacific Coastal region that I have ever had the pleasure of taking in. I've also never had to dig so deep in all my life. More on that later. (how about that? I DID get back to the main subject of this blog!)
Saturday, May 19, 2007
One of the articles was a recipe for what the author called "Rocket Fuel." As I read it, I admittedly thought it did sound quite nutritious and you could do all kinds of things to make the flavor even better - especially since I love experimenting with flavoring.
Unfortunately, as I read it, it made me feel horrible about my choice of food here at the Oasis Grill & Sky Lounge. It was a grilled vegetable sandwich, complete with zucchini, tomato, portabello mushroom and something else. Oh...right...and the pesto aioli. :-/ If I were REALLY disciplined, I would have said "hold the aioli" and not even had a second thought. I think the fatigue has set in though and all I could think about was just having a bite to eat, sipping my cold beer and trying not to collapse. I *did* have a great run this morning, but I generally don't justify poor food choices with a good workout - it's not good practice.
At the end of the day, though, I still ate my vegetables, skipped the fries on the side and enjoyed the overabundance of pesto aioli that coated the bread and veggies. Sometimes, you just have to be satisfied that you did the best you could given the circumstances and move on to the next day. Life's too short to dwell.
Tomorrow's recipe: Rocket Fuel. :)
Recipe: Rocket Fuel
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 cups Brown Rice
1 can black beans
½ cup red onion
2 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup red or yellow peppers
1 cup broccoli
1 cup zucchini (optional)
1 egg (optional)
Heat ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup diced red onion, and minced clove of garlic over med-high heat. Add chicken breast and pan-sear.
Cook 3 cups of brown rice with water or chicken-broth option.
Heat 1 can of black beans .
Add chopped veggies to chicken. Let veggies soften and absorb flavors from the chicken. Add black beans and cover with brown rice. Mix together over high heat and package for leftovers all week. The entire list totals approximately $15. Bon Appétit.
Monday, May 07, 2007
So I don't really have time for a full report right now. Just couldn't wait to put up a picture from the weekend. Race went well overall, and I love my triathlete friends. They are just some of the coolest people!
Summary of the pluses/minuses of the weekend:
- Improved swim by a minute (prob could've been faster if it wouldn't have been for the full-contact sport that the swim turned out to be, due to the fact that the Team In Training wave started right before mine...that's another blog entry though)
- Improved run by 5 minutes (I also wasn't cramping and dying the way I did last year...)
- Didn't dehydrate too badly in spite of the fact that it was 90+ degrees and my run began at 12:15 p.m.
- (Mostly) had fun.
- Megan and I were together up through T2...then she flew past me on the run, which did not surprise me. :)
- Fueled well
- Felt good for all of the race...or as good as one can feel climbing up crazy hills in really hot weather after swimming and biking.
- In spite of a few difficulties, still placed 18/270 and beat time from last year by 3 minutes.
- Best of all, I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and not a grimace, and could stand easily as they took my timing chip off my ankle. That felt nice.
- Learned that the cleats I bought for my Look pedals are actually slightly smaller than the previous cleats I had on (as apparently they know have a newer Look pedal that takes slightly smaller cleats...of which I was unaware up until yesterday), so I spent 24.5 miles concentrating not as much on climbing over hills with quick cadences and hammering on the downhills, but instead on keeping my feet steady so that they wouldn't fly out of the pedals (which they still did numerous times). I initially thought it would be miserable but it could've been worse.
- Learned later from my friends that there is apparently a 'trick' to getting your chain back onto your gears when it drops without having to actually dismount your bike and put it back on. Too bad I didn't know that DURING the bike.
- Overall probably lost about 1 - 1.5 minutes on the bike due to trying to fix pedals/chain, as well as another minute (at least) of simply being slowed down due to not being able to pedal as swiftly as I'm used to - lost momentum quite a number of times due to feet flying out of pedals. That got old after awhile. These minutes lost meant that I probably could've placed higher.
- Unfortunately had to be behind Team In Training wave - that was a DEFINITE minus.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
So what is the right amount of taper? When should one start tapering? It's a tricky process that is a combination of science and art. When it comes to the BIG "A" race (Vineman, for me), I'll start the taper process about 3-4 weeks beforehand. I'll follow some guidelines and listen to my body, be strict about nutrition, blah blah blah.
But Wildflower is NOT my A race. It's my 'warm-up.' My litmus test. Hence working hard up through last Sunday. This is the week I'm letting my body rest a little. Tapering is always a fight, though. Ask any athlete and they'll tell you it's one of the most difficult things to do correctly. When you've been training for 8-10 hours a week consistently, some weeks pushing hard, how do you just 'back off?' Or how MUCH do you 'back off?'
Fears and rationalizations begin flying across your mind: "If I back off, so will my fitness." "I'll get used to being lazy." "I've just gotta get one more good [enter swim/bike/run here] in." "One more won't hurt."
It all reminds me of being in school again. There were those classes that I actually liked, where I did the reading, did the studying on time, didn't cram, and the night before an exam, I could actually feel relaxed and not attempt to speed-read 4 weeks' worth of material. I could go into a test confident and prepared. Then there were those other classes. The ones where I was ALWAYS cramming, hated the material, and hated the studying. Unfortunately, as a freshman, I learned the hard way that with calculus, even if I hated it (which I actually didn't - I just hated the way it was taught and never understood a damn thing the prof. was saying), I needed to put the time in. By the time the final came around, there I was desperately attempting to understand sequences and series, but it was no use. No point in cramming at that point. It wasn't going to do me any good and any information I DID try to learn was probably going to just mess up the stuff that I had retained.
Triathlon training is like that. If you don't put the time in, there's no use trying to get it all in the week before. The week before is a time to focus on eating well, practicing visualization, preparing your checklist. It's a time to allow your body to relax a little, freshen up and renew. It's an exercise in self-discipline, of not following what everybody else at swim practice/spinning class is doing, but of following your own plan and not trying to outrun the dude in front of you on your nice easy run. It's staying within your head, planning YOUR game and remembering that you've got what you got. Ain't nothin' else gonna help build your speed now!
So, how to taper? It all varies from person to person and different races. I went to yoga this morning and thankfully, since it's a full moon, she felt we should go a bit easier than normal. Perfect timing! I'm still a tad sore but I really needed the stretches. Track workout yesterday was nice 'n easy. I'll do an easy swim tomorrow, and try to keep my heart rate down when I teach spinning on Friday. One of each thing in, nothing crazy, and visualizing myself holding steady on all those climbs at WF.
If all goes well on Sunday, then I'll know I got the tricky taper right...this time.