Monday, March 2, 2020

10,388 Meters of Virtual Climbing. Past the Top of the World in my Basement

   I accomplished another vEveresting on 2/25/2020, this time surpassing the 8848 mark of Mt. Everest (at 8.6 times up Alpe du Zwift) to 10,000 meters (9.7 times up Alpe du Zwift) and then opting to make the final push to the top of Alpe de Zwift to make it a 10-climb day.  It took me 15 hours and 29 minutes, I rode 149 miles and climbed 10,388 meters, all made possible by the virtual world that is Zwift, a training and racing platform for cycling and running.  It was not without its struggles but my preparation kept those to a minimum.
   I have a background in distance events, so even entering my first vEveresting in December 2019 I had a bit of confidence and a virtual Everesting did not appear quite so carzy. I’ve done 3 Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike races, numerous qualifiers for them, and long gravel grinders.  In 2017 I had the good fortune to race RAAM on a four-woman team, Team Brigham Health, and we established a record for women 60+ of 7 days, 11 hours, and 4 minutes.  Broken into two duos, my teammate and I tag-teamed 8 day-into-night segments that each lasted for over 12 hours.
   As far as hill climbing goes, I have raced up Washington Auto Road 6 or 7 times as well as most of the other hill climb races throughout the northeast which make up the BUMPS series.  Included in this series is the hill climb up the Whiteface Mountain Auto Road, one of my favorites.  When Alpe du Zwift was released on Zwift it amazed me that the scenery was so reminiscent of all of the climbs I had done, from those in the northeast to those in the Oakland, CA area where I am lucky enough to train as well, specifically Tunnel Rd. and Mt. Diablo.  Let’s just say I love to climb!
   One of the coolest things about Alpe du Zwift is that it is so very similar to the Whiteface climb.  I had always heard that Whiteface and the famous Alpe d’Huez (for which Alpe du Zwift was patterned after) were quite similar, and this turned out to be quite true.  While Alpe du Zwift is steeper at the bottom than Whiteface the last few miles are so reminiscent of that climb and the last mile brings me back to that race every single time.  Since Alpe du Zwift was released almost 2 years ago I have climbed it over 100 times.
   So when it came time to choose a climb to do my vEveresting the choice was clear.  Alpe it was!  In addition to my familiarity with the climb, there was no denying that its length and average grade would get me to my goal the quickest.  There are many climbs on Zwift, but none that had an average of 8% and were 7.7 miles long.  I investigated the others and looked at my fastest times (not that I was planning on duplicating those times during an Everesting) and there was simply not the bang for the buck that Alpe du Zwift offers.  Utilizing any other climb was going to take longer, and this was going to be long enough!
   That average grade does not come without its challenges.  One of the rules to enter the Hells500 vEveresting hall of fame was that a virtual Everesting has to be as life-like as one done outside. When I purchased my Wahoo Kickr last fall and set it to the required 100% trainer difficulty it also proved to be “100% reality.” Just as if I was climbing that road over and over in the real world, I would want gearing that would allow me to pace myself and pedal at an endurance pace rather than at race pace or even tempo.  I had my bike shop, Dick Sonne’s Cycling and Fitness, transform my Specialized Crux into the gravel bike of my dreams by installing a new rear derailleur and cassette so that my easiest gear was 36 x 40.  Having that gear meant that I could remain at endurance pace no matter what the grade, even at the bottom/start of the climb which hovers in the 10-12% region.  Did I use it all the time?  No. I used the 31 and 35 as well, and perhaps even the 27, and kept my feet moving in order to not bog down. I do recall even shifting into the big ring on a couple of the switchbacks and, of course, I was in the big ring and the smallest cog on the descents.
   I have always had a rule to never stop while climbing Alpe du Zwift and I remained true to this during both my vEverestings.  That definitely made me push a little harder on the last 1.5 miles to the top, each time.  Light at the end of the tunnel!  During my training for the first vEveresting I also made my second rule, which was to not let my avatar ever come to a complete standstill.  After topping out after each summit I would to a U-turn and pedal hard to get my avatar plummeting down the Alpe. While it was coasting I would then quickly rush upstairs to mix a drink, take a nature break, etc.  As quickly as I could I would be back on my bike and pedaling the remainder of the descent so that my legs would be warmed up and ready for the subsequent climb.  As soon as I flew past the start banner at the bottom I would make a U-turn and then begin again.  Did I mention that the first part of the climb is kind of step?
   With my plan of being on the bike as much as possible I had to be well prepared, having water bottles filled, and having my Hammer Nutrition supplements, Hammer Gel, Perpetuem solids, and Hammer's Perpetuem measured out, labeled, and at my side.  Nutrition and hydration are things that can be controlled and being prepared is a must since, well, brain-power during the event might be a little lacking.  My plan worked to a T, just as it did in December.  Aside from bits of a Hammer Nutrition Vegan bar and a few Perpetuem solids all my nutrition came in liquid or gel form, with my hourly intake at 200 calories, 18 ounces of liquid, and, every 50 minutes an Endurolytes capsule, an Anti-Fatigue capsule, and a BCAA+ capsule.  I added in a few more Endurolytes and constantly used Energy Surge.  I began the day with a serving of Fully Charged and had two more servings, one at 5 hours and one at 11.  I have been a sponsored athlete of Hammer Nutrition since 1997 and so I have a ton of experience with their products.  Honestly, though, I use them all as directed, which is the way I suggest everyone who works with them.
   I’ve been asked about my training for these events.  The six weeks leading up to the event involves lots of climbs up Alpe du Zwift, along with threshold training and endurance work.  I have worked exclusively with my coach Mark Fasczewski of Vantaggio Fitness and Nutrition since 2004, so none of this type of training is new or unusual to me, just, perhaps, a bit more of it at certain points.  Being as fit as possible, nailing down the pace that one can continue for long periods, and then tapering for the event without losing fitness are all critical and Mark knows how to arrange this for me.  Also critical to this is refraining from overtraining with both eyes on rest and recovery.
   Doubly important is the support I receive from my husband Phil, the athletes I coach, and on event day, also from good friend Wendy Bowers. Phil accepts my long rides on the trainer as part of my job and my work schedule is flexible enough to allow me to train lots during the day and then work early morning and all evening. As a coach these hours, and this event, give me a perspective on what my athletes are going through when things get rough for them. EVERY SINGLE ONE of my athletes inspire me, with their tenacity and dedication despite whatever limitations they might have or encounter along the way.
   As one can see, there are many moving parts to this kind of thing.  Training and past experience are critical, and along the way one can study and learn how to do this the best.  Planning is the key.  Equipment/gearing, nutrition/supplementation, pacing/protocol, and support are the pillars that hold this all up. 
   So what is next?  After completing the 10 times up Alpe I proudly exclaimed “never again!”  That was tough on mind and body and I was a bit concerned about how I would recover.  I took two days completely off the bike and some naps, with a gradual re-entry since.  Doing something like this also comes with lack of sleep, both before, with my 3:30 am start (because I woke up and was not about to go back to sleep) and afterward with the body zooming so much and legs that hurt so bad that going to sleep took a while.  Yeah, I had a 24 hour day J  But now that I am mostly recovered (I still need an acupuncture treatment from Mackay Rippey) I have a great base under my belt. I can look forward to some great race training for the goal events I have this season which include --- ta da – hill climbs and longer events such as marathon mountain bike races and gravel grinders.  Oh, and time trialing. 
   Can you do this?  If you want to, and you REALLY have to want to!  Work your way up to it a little at a time.  If you already have experience doing long things (8+ hours) on the bike you’ve already got a mental leg-up.  I suggest that if anyone wants to have the best experience to do their absolute best with preparation and to not give this a GO until you are good and ready.  As I mentioned after my first vEveresting, I thought I was “ready” to attempt it as soon as Cyclocross season was over.  Coach Mark knew otherwise and devised a training plan that enabled me to be so successful and to actually want to do it again.  Six weeks later I was, literally/virtually, on top of the world.   To date, out of 444, I am the oldest human to have done a vEverest (take that you men one year younger than me, lol,) the woman, out of 25, with the most vertical meters climbed (by ten whole meters,) and at the time my first vEveresting was the 5th fastest (by a few seconds.)  I love to compete and seeing these stats afterward are icing on the cake but not really why I do it. The goal is to just do my best and have fun doing it.  OK, this was Type 2 kind of fun, but I did get to watch a lot of UCI Cyclocross in the process!
   This post started as simply an answer to a couple of how-to questions.  As usual, I went overboard. Most importantly, do what moves YOU.  Enjoy it.  Riding a bike is a privilege as is having the health to do it.  Rejoice and respect your abilities and the accomplishments you've already made, set goals, and learn about yourself along the way.  Rejoice in the blessings of the rest of your life as well.  Life is an unpredictable journey, but by systematically taking care what you can control you can work toward accomplishing something you thought was not possible.  Always be kind to yourself and to those around you. 
   Of course I am pretty good at forgetting self-inflicted discomfort so there might be more Everesting in my future. Never say never. Ride on!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

My Virtual Everesting: Opportunity and Preparedness

I did it!  I fulfilled my goal of a Virtual Everesting!  As I await approval from the Hells500 folks as to my inclusion into their vEveresting Hall of Fame I just want to get the message out.

I have wanted to do a vEveresting for a couple of years now, and finally my health and schedule got together and allowed me to do this.  My coach, Mark Fasczewski, devised a several-week master plan that took me through the end of Cyclocross season and into pre-vEveresting.  Although I had already climbed Alpe du Zwift 27 times since its creation in March of 2018, starting this October I now had a new purpose.  In 6 weeks of training I climbed it another 29 times, not all at once, of course, and I really got to know the ins and outs and what I could reasonably expect my pace to be while vEveresting.  I was looking at 8.54 times up this climb so I had to be prepared.

The rules of vEveresting state that it needs to be done on a very reliable trainer and that it needs to be set at 100% difficulty.  I purchased a Wahoo Kickr and the Climb, and it was a giant leap forward in my Zwifting experience.  The Climb makes riding the trainer such a dynamic experience and one can then be “all over the saddle,” just like riding in the real world.  I have become a real Wahooligan! 

The gearing on my Specialized Venge was a generous 36 x 34, but I realized that while it was good for interval training on the Alpe and anything I wanted to do in the real world it was just going to be a long 60 rpm slog on the day of vEveresting.  The guys at Dick Sonne’s Cycling came to my rescue, just as they had with the Wahoo setup, and transformed my Specialized Crux into the bike of my dreams, installing a cassette with a 40 tooth cog and getting it to work flawlessly.  I also purchased a Specialized Mimic saddle which I can’t say enough good things about. What gifts!

All this training required super attention to nutrition and hydration.  Back to back 4 and 5 hour days are no time to skimp on anything.  The products from my sponsor Hammer Nutrition were always there for me and my familiarity with their use made me even more aware of how much and when to ingest.  I always remind people that nutrition and hydration are things that we athletes have a large amount of control over and to not squander that advantage by neglecting to learn or implement the things that work best for them.

So vEveresting day came along and I was excited.  I was also a bit nervous since I had no real idea how my body was going to react over the long haul, but I had good faith in my preparation.  I also had a great wealth of cycling history to fall back on, from completing a record setting Team RAAM in 2017, three Leadvilles, several Mount Washington Auto Road races, several BUMPS series, and Whiteface Auto Road races.  Alpe du Zwift is taken from the GPS info for the famed Alpe d’ Huez in France, but it is also very similar in average grade and length of the Whiteface Auto Road.  It even looks the same at the top and for the last mile or so on Alpe du Zwift  I am always transported back to those Whiteface finishes.

Although I slept well I woke at 3 and, after trying to go back to sleep I got up and got ready.  I had to do my final prep, like make bottles with Perpetuem and get Hammer Gel flasks ready. I took my Hammer Nutrition supplements.  I had some coffee.  I also had to take photographs for my documentation for Hells500.  This included my weigh-in and its setting in Zwift.  I had calibrated the Kickr the day before and taken screen shots of that as well as photos of my pain cave and gearing.  Then it was time to sign on to Zwift and at 4:39 AM I was off!

Wow, that was early for me to be on a bike so I took it easy getting to the base of the mountain and babied myself on the first climb.  I listened to my usual music (House) and that did nothing to inspire me.  My lower back hurt. Really?  This was going to be a long day.  But I rolled over the top in under my goal time, at 77 minutes and change.  OK, this was going to work.  I hit the descent and spun my legs out.
The second climb was a little slower but then they started getting faster.  I switched from music to watching Belgian and Dutch Cyclocross.  There were some that I had not yet seen.  GCN racing, yeah!  I kept track of my fueling, hydration, and Hammer Nutrition supplements on an index card so I would not have to wonder when I needed more.  Looking at that card now it looks like chicken scratch, but it worked!

While I was riding I got so many “Ride ons” from people I knew and the people riding around me.  Next to my name I was encouraged to add vEveresting so that everyone would know that is what I was up to.  It sure was an attention grabber.  I also had friends drop into my ride and do a bit of climbing with me.  One of my athletes was doing some Alpe repeats on his own, for training, having his own personal suffer fest. They all offered encouragement through texting, and although my replies back were cryptic at best I appreciated them being there.  I was so intent on focusing on my pacing (not too hard, not to easy) and taking care of myself when I needed to that I was less than social. And I just did not want to hit the wrong thing on my phone, causing the whole game to crash.  Note that I have never done that from the Companion App on the phone but I have done so from a keyboard which is why I did not use one that day.

The time really flew by, which is something that I found happens with longer events.  Especially events that have some kind of cut-off like Leadville.  Being able to break this up into eight equal parts and then the finish to 29,029 feet made it mentally easier and I just took it one bite at a time, like all those other events.  I was thrilled with my pacing and how I was feeling.  I was able to take such good care of myself and my support crew of my husband Phil and friend Wendy B was able to fill in the blanks when I needed them to. 

Before long I had completed my eighth time up Alpe, and watched a lot of Cyclocross.  It was time for the last push to 29,029!  Some more friends magically appeared near me on the Alpe and were cheering me on.  I apologized, with a lot of typos, that I could no longer text.  I just kept riding.  Phil took some more photos and some video.  And then I got that Zwift banner announcing to me that I had achieved an Everesting, at 12 hours, 42 minutes and 40 seconds.  OMG, I was so excited!  I rode another couple of hundred feet to just make sure I had done the right thing.  Wow, I had done it, after planning this for so long.

So then I got off the bike and was frantic to save the file to Strava before some mythological electronic gremlin could come along and eat the Zwift file I had just worked so hard to make.  I was terrified that this would happen. I had a backup going, off my Power Tap pedals on my Joule GPS+ which recorded that power, cadence, and heart rate, but I really wanted to have the Zwift file.  It saved.  Yay!  And then the adrenaline left me completely and I could barely stand or walk.  I felt like I did after just completing a Leadville.  What a surprise?  Not really.

So two days later I am still ecstatic about this.  Yesterday I submitted all my documentation to Hells500.  I am working hard on my recovery.  The evening after I completed it I started by chugging two bottles of Recoverite.  Then I moved to a couple of Hammer Nutrition’s bars.  Eventually I ventured into solid food. My sleep was predictably lousy, and I kept hydrating and nibbling throughout the night.  Yesterday I felt the effects, but after a three hour nap in the afternoon I began to feel like a new person.  Today is even better.

So what is next?  Well, Christmas and some time with our daughters and our granddaughter.  And while you’d think that having a total of 64 climbs up Alpe would be enough I can’t wait to do another vEveresting.  There is also a challenge to climb for 10,000 meters instead of a mere 8848.  There are other worlds on Zwift that have some good climbs, although that will take longer as well.  And there are some good hills around here, outside.  Stay tuned…

I really want to thank my sponsor  Hammer Nutrition for helping me with this.  Also Dick Sonne’s Cycling for all their instantaneous help with my bikes and their dealing with Specialized and Wahoo when I needed some more information.  They even had some of this attempt going live while it was happening! Thank you to my athletes and friends for the continual Ride Ons all day.  Also thank you Bear Mountaineers for your support, especially Paul Zucker for rounding up the troops that popped in – himself included - every now and again. Ed Ickowski was there in the beginning doing his own three climbs.  Bryant Stafford, Pam Peloso, Mily Noyola and friend Danielle Madore were there for a photo at the end. If I forgot anyone please forgive me.  Sometimes I was not looking at the screen or may have been less than coherent.  Everyone was so helpful.  Of course a giant thank you Phil Thompson and Wendy Bowers for being there in the flesh for me, and then guiding me during the aftermath – like climbing the stairs!

I am so fortunate.  There is a saying that good luck is the combination of opportunity and preparedness.  Having the treasure of good health and having the time to train opened the door for this opportunity.  The intense in-depth training and support that Coach Mark provided provided me, layered on top of my past experiences, left me with unparalleled preparedness.  I had the best of times doing this, and with time being such a precious commodity I am beyond grateful.  Thank you, again, for all who helped me out in any way.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

This song by Randy Travis was continually playing through my head during RAAM and it was often the backdrop for my experiences.

“My love is deeper than the holler, stronger than the rivers
Higher than the pine trees growin’ tall upon the hill
My love is purer than the snowflakes that fall in late December
And honest as a robin on a springtime windowsill
And longer than the song of a whippoorwill.”  

My love is for my family and how grateful to have them to love.

My love is for this great country that opened itself up to me

My love is for the lessons that I learned along the way that fundamentally changed me, that taught me to live life in that moment and that fear is only fear and cannot, in itself, change the realities of danger.

My love had to override the terror I had that any moment could be my last.

My love is for the members of team Shake and how they made our part of this journey not only possible but a thing of beauty.

The night I arrived home, and as I finally slept, the purity of the rider exchanges that Jeff Richardson and Tuner Richardson facilitated between Neil and me came to me over and over again in dreams.  Whenever I woke up I felt what it had been like to be part of this wonderful process.  During RAAM, the energy that flowed from each exchange we made propelled me down the road mile by mile.

My cue that the end my riding segment was approaching  – be it 5 or 15 minutes – was seeing our Tahoe (Racer Vehicle) and its flashing lights pulled over up ahead.  Jeff and Turner would be out in their positions, with Jeff holding Neil for her start and Turner at the ready to take my bike and put it onto the rack. I’d cruise past Neil and cheer her on as I quickly slowed down and pulled to the right and off the road. Turner was always the rock that I could rely on as I then bent over my handlebars, gasping for breath.  Seriously, every time.  He’d patiently wait as I turned off my Joule GPS+ and accepted anything I had to say about that pull as I got off the bike.  My only duty after that handoff was to get myself safely into the Tahoe and cool myself down, eat, drink, and take whatever Hammer Nutrition products I thought I needed at the time.

Jeff would make sure that we had everything secure and then it was off to leapfrog Neil.  I would be relieved when I saw that she was riding safe and sound up ahead, and as we drove past her I was always inspired by her strength and purpose as she moved our group forward with every pedal stroke.  She never ever ceased to amaze me.

While Jeff looked for the next perfect exchange site he also pointed out the beautiful and unique things along the way.  There were always impromptu photo sessions.  As I readied myself for the next exchange I was able to make note of the things he highlighted that I would never have noticed on my own.  We also had endless conversations about what we were seeing, prior life experiences, and shared our beliefs in what was most important in life.

RAAM rules state that the Racer Vehicle had to be parked at least 5 feet to the right of the white line (fog line) but Jeff could regularly find an almost perfect spot.  The stopwatch was restarted when we each started our pull so we were never in danger of being out there too long, tiring too much and slowing down. On long descents whoever was riding got to take the entire thing. Fun!

When Jeff thought it was time I would get out of the Tahoe, get my bike in the correct gear, and be at the ready for when Neil passed me and I could start.  This was the time to look at the sky and see the Milky Way and shooting stars and the beautiful sunsets that had been to our back. When Neil arrived I’d cheer my appreciation for her effort and she would cheer me on for my pull.  Jeff would push me off, his own effort so powerful that when he stopped pushing me the difference was astounding.  The pedaling was now all up to me. 

While I was out there I worked on being as efficient as possible with aerodynamics and power and on being as focused as possible in order to avoid driving my bike into any problems, be it disappearing shoulders, sudden road debris, potholes, road kill, or rumble strips.  Every second  counted and I’d work at getting as much out of each pedal stroke as possible without overdoing it and burying myself.  I’d focus on the present tense, staying in the moment in order to be as careful as possible so I could ride as fast as possible.

I learned to love riding in the night.  Tom Gray and Buzz Gamble were charged with the unenviable task of keeping us safe from behind.   From 7PM to 7AM it was mandatory to have a vehicle follow us at all times, and racers were required to stay within the headlights.  I always looked forward to this time, called mandatory direct follow.  I was amazed at how much the headlights allowed me to see while riding, but it was also a precarious position to be in, with a vehicle following so closely.   The headlights also did a good job of illuminating our exchanges, a silent helper, if you will.

It was not until it was completely dark that our conversation would change to how many miles we had left until our shift was complete and Bake would take over.  Wind conditions would have to be factored into our ETA and there were also the unknown things like traffic lights that would take away from our average speed.  Sometimes it seemed that I’d get to every light just as it turned red.  But the exchanges between Neil and me continued to flow as they had done all day, with me clearing my brain in brief meditation while Jeff counted down the pedal strokes left until Neil passed me and I could start my next pull.

Eventually we would get down to the last pull of the night with that person charged to ride to the predetermined site.  That person had to keep focused on riding while the rider in the Tahoe could now think about a shower, dinner, and massage, and the camaraderie of all the other support team members who were waiting to help us transition from active racer to recovering racer. Ana with her massages, Beth and Karen with food and encouragement, Peter, Mick and Dreux carrying bags, offering support, and driving us to our next hotel.  And, of course, Dave Eldridge directing the entire process so it would go as efficiently as possible.

Another day of RAAM riding completed safely.  More lessons learned.  Even more places and people  to be thankful for and to love.

Meanwhile, Trish Karter and Susan Lynch were now out there riding their segment -- Bake was on the road,  Mary and Barb were their follow vehicle and Phil and Carolyn were in their racer vehicle, facilitating their racer exchanges just as Jeff and Turner had facilitated ours.  We only got to see Team Bake in passing, but it was always with well wishes for what they were about to do or cheers for what they had just completed as we set out to start another day.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Importance of Recovery in Reaching Athletic Goals

It is not hard to see the advantages of working out.  Health and wellness rely on a body that is often in motion, and the emotional and physical well-being that results is a phenomenon that spurs folks on to continuing this life style.  Those who become bitten by the workout bug find ways to inject more workout time into their life, since their exercise makes them feel so darned good.  Folks blessed with a bit of talent often choose to become competitive in their sport.  What fun!  When they begin to compete they seem to be faster every time they go out and workout.  Stopwatch turned on, they are out the door and looking for another personal best. 

What Happens When We Train?

In coaching we have a saying “the more you do, the more you can do.”  The body is a marvelous creation that gets more and more efficient at pounding things out. Just one of many processes in endurance sports is that more mitochondria are packed into muscles as the body adapts, increasing the ability to carry oxygen. The body can seemingly do more with less, and it also becomes more efficient at recovering from athletic poundings.  It can be said that part of the process of training the body to do more than before is tied up into the reality that the body learns how to recover from that “more.”  What a gift!

In the early phases of one’s athletic pursuit adequate recovery comes with the territory, since workouts are generally short and likely not crammed into every single day.  Once the competitive bug hits, though, many athletes jump onto the “more IS more” bandwagon and train harder and longer, since a minor version of this is what made them good in the first place.  What could be bad about that?

When one works out, whether it is endurance sports, skill sports, weight lifting, or combinations of all, the body endures damage to the muscles and deficits to all its systems.  Reaction to this is a miraculous rebuilding by the body which, ideally, brings the systems up to an even stronger status quo.  Getting faster/stronger is a by-product of this rebuilding.  This essentially, is healing, and it takes time, happening most effectively when the body is resting.

Many athletes take this gift for granted, though, and continue with their “more is more” philosophy of training in hopes of improving, as people enjoy their chosen sport.  Some people brag about never even taking a day off, which, in their mind, gives their workouts even more importance.  What has happened, though, is that the athlete has now flipped over to the other side, ignoring this critical equation:  Workouts + recovery = training.  Yes, without recovery workouts are simply workouts. 

What Makes Us Stronger?

There are articles galore about the importance of recovery for the athlete.  Again, the repairs to the body are best done while resting, since more of the energy systems are available for that purpose.  The offshoot of this is that, once recovered, the body feels GOOD, and a body that feels good is going to be able to push the envelope in training to induce the processes that propel the body to the next level.  That is it, in a nutshell.  Train while too tired and those numbers are not going to be reached.  Race while too tired and the results are discouraging, at best.  The motivation that the athlete has to improve must fuel the desire to rest as much as the desire to work out.

What Helps the Body Recover?
Tactics include:
·         A strategically placed day off works wonders.  At times a complete week devoted to recovery is in order.
·         A workout schedule that peppers easier days between the hard days is also smart, since the body has a couple of days to recover from the last hard workout – provided the easier days are actually easy! 
·         Immediate nutrition and rehydration after a hard workout, as a follow-up to adequate nutrition and hydration during the workout. Eating and drinking are under our own control, and avoiding a fall into a big preventable deficit gives the athlete less to actually recover from.
·         Stretching and meditation can help bring the body back to a calmer place.
·         Chilling out – doing nothing – can have a huge impact.  A person I know painted his house whenever he had a day off from cycling.  He was not feeling very rested. Improvements were negligible. 
·         And, paramount to all of these:  SLEEP!  Human Growth Hormone is specifically released by the brain while sleeping.  There are hosts of metabolic processes that, not surprisingly, happen while asleep, yet athletes often cheat themselves out of this valuable tool. Conversely, when athletes sleep even more than usual their athletic abilities improve.  “Magic,” for sure, but it is difficult to for most folks to simply slow down and go to bed.  Temptations abound. This article from ESPN calls sleep “the new magic pill.”

Some last words from a variety of coaches that I have spoken with and read:  You can work out hard and long, but you will never be as good as you could have been if you do not take the time to recover. 

I am so excited to announce that I am a part of a four women team that will race across the United States in June – with a goal of less than 7 days.  I am doing team RAAM!  Our New England based team is sponsored by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the four of us and our entire crew is, collectively, Team Brigham Health.  Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about taking on a challenge which, because of its motivation, spurred me to work harder than I ever thought I could, and greatly exceeding my expectations.   This race will take the most work of all.  You can likely find me either on the bike (outside or indoors) or in the recliner J  Please check out our team and amazing crew on 

That post I just mentioned has been reworked to be submitted for publication with Brigham Health.  This is the new and improved version:
   “Truth is stranger than fiction” is a phrase that I often quote.  Mostly, the truths that I refer to are my own.  Pushing myself in some kind of methodical manner has led me to loftyish places where I never imagined being, enabling me to take advantages of opportunities when they emerge. I’d never have imagined that I’d be on a team for the Race Across America, which is going to be the biggest challenge yet, but here I am. Going back to the spring of 2012 I am refreshing my memory about another challenge that I took on, with a surprising – and pleasing – outcome.

In December of 2011 I broke my hip while competing in a Cyclocross race, tipping over in a narrow part of the course while passing another woman who I had lapped.  I cracked the femur at the head and won myself a complete hip replacement.  I also had a crack in my femur below the hip prosthesis, so after the surgery I was restricted to using a walker for 6 weeks and could only put 50% of my weight on that leg.  When I was pronounced “healed,” and my walker taken away, I had to learn how to walk again.  Fun! 

I’d been doing physical therapy since the day after the surgery and was able to gingerly get back on my bike 2.5 weeks after the accident. Thanks to my desire and my coach, Mark Fasczewski, I rode indoors on my computerized trainer, and when I could walk well enough to get myself somewhere without a cane I started riding out on the road. 

Less than three months after the replacement, and only 5 weeks after I ditched the walker, I signed up for a climbing challenge on Strava, a cycling and running web site that was relatively new at the time.   A Classic Challenge from Specialized  goaded cyclists to climb 105,312 vertical feet between March 15 and April 30.  The significance of this number?  It is three times the total feet of climbing in the Spring Classic races in Europe.  I love climbing!  Besides, there was a cool water bottle as a reward for reaching that total.

It soon became evident that my normal bike routes were not going to amass climbing feet very quickly.  Compared to some of the women signed up, I was fairly minor league.  So by early April I decided to up my game and change my routes.  I tried not to ride anything for more than a mile that registered zero percent grade – what a waste! – and opened my eyes to the local hills. Glaciers had cut valleys, and roads ascended the ridges.  Beautiful climbing, absolutely fun, and it gave each ride an immediate purpose.  I would upload my ride onto Strava post- ride and then I’d check my progress against my virtual, but real, competitors.  Coach Mark enabled this pursuit, and soon I was in the top 20 of over 500 women.

When I significantly increased the amount of climbing feet per week I started leapfrogging over people.  While in the teens I was hoping to get closer to women’s tenth place, and with two weeks remaining in the challenge I had clawed my way into ninth place.  What?  Now my riding took on an obsessive edge (OK, it usually does anyway, but humor me here) and I dropped to 7th, then 6th.  With just a few days to go I found myself in 5th place.  Wow!

 On the last day of the challenge I set out to climb the steepest hills discovered during the last 6 weeks, bagging another 7800 feet in 78 miles, this on a Monday after a road race. Take that, hip replacement! My total for the challenge was 137,772 feet, and in the end I held on to 5th place for women and 107th of the 10,923 people who entered the contest. 

This is, of course, something that I had not dreamed about when I entered the challenge.  Once I’d entered, though, I pushed myself to do things that I would not have done otherwise.  Motivation enabled me to ride in abysmal weather, I did nothing but climb, I descended some steep and scary stuff, and I enjoyed almost every demented minute of it.  The offshoot of this was that my hip became super-strong and my walking became better than when I was spending a log of time, well, walking.

I learned, again, that there are always more possibilities for myself than I can imagine and that one thing leads to another.  The first step into a new venture can open up doors formerly thought “closed for the season.”  The focus on climbing helped me strengthen more quickly, and the fitness I accumulated definitely widened the array of events I was capable of that first season back.   “Never say never” is another one of my favorite slogans, but I can also be guilty of holding myself back with restrictive thinking.  It is easy for me to see this in the athletes I coach, but difficult to recognize this in my own thinking.

This challenge taught me to go with the process, work hard, and see what happens -- to try not to predict the end of the story.  The challenge itself motivated me to do much more than I than I had imagined possible for me.  I’ll work at applying that same lesson regarding Race Across America. The training for this race is tough and the race is unimaginable.  But by involving myself in this challenge I am motivated to go well beyond anything I’ve done in until now and to get past my self-imposed limitations to see what is really possible. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

My 2014 Race Season

Now that my racing season is over for 2014 I am finding a bit of time to reflect on it all.  This reflection gives me an opportunity to complete my resume for the year, and to plan ahead for 2015.  Looking at this “big picture” I again realize how lucky I am to be able to do this and to remember what a gift my good health really is.  Whether it is nature or nurture, we bike racers are an unusually fortunate bunch.

My goals this year were two-fold:  To win my age group in the BUMPS series of hill climbs and to win my age group at the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain bike race.  I was successful on both counts, and these victories did not come without an obstacle or two. My husband and I were sick with some kind of sinus issue for the entire month of February.  We got to watch a LOT of Olympics, but the fitness that I had worked so hard to build seemed to melt away.  Yikes!

The challenge, then, was to build up and get myself back to where I could enjoy the racing that I had planned for the season.  With the enlightened help of my long-time coach Mark Fasczewski I got back on track when my symptoms finally subsided, and I worked at regaining both power and endurance.  After a couple of weeks back on the bike Mark encouraged me to register for my favorite race – Austin Rattler – assuring me that I’d be ready for the 100 km.  Making the trip from snowy Central New York to sunny and warm Texas was a huge treat, and mind and body transformed with his change in locale.  I had a super time at that race, winning my age group and an entry to the Leadville Trail 100  MTB.  

Once I had qualified for Leadville it was time to put my focus on the particular training needed for that kind of racing.  My needs for Leadville are many, though, and getting to the start line with a high (for me) FTP, good endurance, and enhanced bike handling skills is mandatory.  And so the spring progressed and summer commenced.  I raced gravel grinders in Western New York and West Virginia.  I participated in a Strava climbing challenge and placed 11th overall for the women. I raced the Wilmington/Whiteface 100 KM on the Summer Solstice.  And while racing the hill climbs was also perfect Leadville training races conflicted and I was only able to do one before it was time to head to Colorado.

This Leadville was my third, and I chose to spend even more time at altitude in order to acclimate.  One of our daughters lives in Durango and I was super lucky to be able to spend over a week riding up and down the many dirt roads in the area.  Fun!  Durango is a great place to visit even if one does not want to ride a bike, but was a perfect venue for me to acclimate and to keep polishing my dirt road descending skills.  Not to mention the fun I had on the long climbs.  Thank you MK and Drew!

In years past MK and I have camped in Leadville, but this year we banded together with some good friends and rented a home near the aid station at Twin Lakes.  To all of our collective delights this house overlooked the lakes and gazed out at an array of mountains.  We spent so much time just looking at them that, in short order, we rearranged the furniture so that we could comfortably gaze out of the windows from any seat in the living room.  What a great relaxing way to get ready for a big race.

Leadville day dawned chilly and clear and the weather report looked to be in our favor.  Hooray!  The gun went off and I fought hard to maintain my position in the giant glob of racers.  Another hooray!  However, as I was descending the famous Power Line descent I was clipped from the side by a guy who’s ability to thread the needle was not very good, and down we both went.  My stuff scattered all over the place and I hurt, but aside from a swollen and scraped up hip (I found this out later) I was OK.  I lost time and, eventually, lost energy.  Still, I finished the race and collected another awesome Leadville finisher’s medal.  And I was first in my age group.  Another hooray!

After spending so much time in Colorado it was really hard to say goodbye, but I needed to get home.  I missed Phil terribly, and I needed to be at the base of Mt. Washington in 6 days to be part of the pre-race “meet and greet.”  My hip was sore, I was tired, and I had a not-so-welcomed five hour layover in the middle of the night at O’Hare.  Flights were smooth, though, and when I did arrive home on Wednesday I simply went to bed.  Ahhh, sleep!

Thursday dawned and it was time to pack for New Hampshire.  I installed a 12x36 cassette on my Power Tap hub, adjusted the shifting, and my trusty Specialized Roubaix was ready to race the Mt. Washington Auto Road Hill climb on Saturday.  Now this is not a race schedule that I would recommend to anyone, but one cannot dictate the dates of races.  My hip was a little sore and my power was lacking, but my climb up Mt. Washington was rewarding just the same.  I won my age group and set a new age group record in the process.  It was 40 degrees and hellishly windy at the top – you know, like Mt. Washington! – but at times the clouds parted and the glorious view was there for the eyes to feast on. I missed Colorado just a little less.

After that weekend some real rest was in order and then it was time to put my mountain bike back together and get ready for the ADK80K, in Lake Placid.  I retired from cross country ski racing after the 2003 season, but I’ve not lost my love for the trails on Mt. Van Hoevenberg.  This time it was camping with good friends and teammates and racing four laps of the amazingly fun double and singletrack.  I love this race, and to prove it I was 35 minutes faster than my time from last year.  I’ll take that!

The fall featured a couple more hill climbs and I was able to wrap up my season.  The focus of my training continues toward the ever-important task of keeping/building threshold power and maintaining and improving my handling skills.  Building power works for me on the trainer, but I am outside in the wind and cold as much as I can just to keep myself on an even keel.  Fun rides with long climbs are in order.

Phil and I have done some traveling as well, visiting MK in Durango last week.  We worked with her on a construction project, and I got some good riding and hiking in as well.  Later this week I will fly to California to visit with Melissa.  I might get to jump on a bike and climb a few of the hills in Oakland while I’m there!

All of this racing takes training and all of the training takes fuel and equipment.  I’d like to thank my sponsors Hammer Nutrition, Dick Sonne’s Cycling, and SpecializedBicycles
.  Yes, I am truly blessed to be able to do all this and incredibly fortunate J

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Winter of our Discontent

It seems that this winter has been going on forever, and it certainly has been a tougher year to be a cycling coach.  Our weather has been consistently snowy and cold, making indoor training the only option for me.  To me, this is a normal winter, but the warmer-than-usual winters of the past few years has spoiled a lot of folks.  There is no doubt that taking that occasional ride outside can change one's perspective for the better.  We've had little opportunity to do so around here, though.

As for me, I'm just happy to be able to train at all.  February came and went, and I was sick for the entire month.  I trained very little to give my immune system a boost, and I shudder to think of what would have happened if I had not backed off in time.  Things have improved dramatically now that the calendar says March.

Now that March is here I can think of racing again.  My coach is systematically ramping up my training, and I've felt good enough to register for the Austin Rattler  What better way to get out of the snow than to travel to sunny (hopefully!) San Antonio, Texas?  I had so much fun during this 100 km race last year and my motivation for making this trip has been compounded by the fact that I did not get drawn for the Leadville Lottery.  Please keep all your fingers crossed that my bike and my fitness holds together for me in this Leadville Qualifier, on March 29.  However, the big goal, as always, is to simply do my best and have fun.

Cycling in general, and bicycle racing in particular, teaches us all about the unpredictability of life and looking for new opportunities when plans go awry.  My knee injury last fall ended my cyclocross racing season, but it healed well enough for me to take fifth place in a Strava Climbing Challenge.  All the rest I got while fighting February's respiratory monster will keep me from feeling burned out, and all the balance work that I did while doing nothing aerobic is bound to help my handling skills :)

Bottom line?  Roll with the punches and be prepared to reinvent yourself at a moment's notice.  My goals this year are similar to year's past, with the BUMPS series of hill climbs and Leadville looming large.  All of this, though, is simply for the joy of cycling and meeting those other passionate women and men at the start and finish line.  Preparation is key and training indoors, well, should bring a smile to the face.  I'm off to my basement right now.