Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Whiteface Mountain Auto Road Hill Climb 2012

On Saturday, June 16, I competed in the Whiteface Auto Road Hill Climb.  This is the second race in the BUMPS series, although the first for me as I chase series points.  I had fantasized about this race since my hip fracture six months ago, picturing the glorious views that one occasionally glimpses in the midst of all the climbing.  The average grade for this climb is only 8 percent, but the road is eight miles long, so it is, indeed, one long interval!

In 2010 we got to start in Wilmington, at the base of the auto road climb, with our age group and gender.  New for this year was a mass start of almost 300 racers, three miles from Wilmington, on the bridge over the Ausable Rive at the Whiteface MountainSki Area.    As one would imagine, this ended up being a free-for-all from the gun, and a furious pace was set.  By the time I got myself up to Route 86 from the bridge there was a line ahead as far as the eye could see.

My goals for this race were to use it as a benchmark, to compare myself with my performance of 2010.  As I did two years ago, I am racing both Mt. Washington Auto Road Hill Climbs as a sponsored racer for Hammer Nutrition, so I really needed to figure out “where I was” at this point in my recovery and training.  Consequently, I did not push the pace too much on the brief uphill start or on the Route 86 “sprint” down to Wilmington.

Once on the auto road climb there was a mass of people around me.  I settled into a pace – a certain power level that I was hoping to maintain for the entire race – and I started to pick off people.  During that time I remember being passed by only two people, a woman who was riding her brakes so hard on the steeper section leading toward Wilmington that I almost ran into her, and a teenage boy who zipped past me in the last 100 meters.  I wish I could have counted how many people I passed in the next eight miles, but I was otherwise occupied, concerned with catching and passing as many women as possible.

The climb went great!  While initially I felt hot and a bit whiny, I settled in after the tollbooths and really started to enjoy the challenge.  The day was gorgeous and, when I lifted my head from my Joule, the views were magnificent.  I was ecstatic when I crossed the line, knowing that for the hill climb portion I had come within seconds of my 2010 time.

It was glorious at the summit!  Janice Williams had driven our van to the top, so we all had some warmer clothing and a lift back down if necessary. She also took some cool photos. Thank you Janice! The vistas from Whiteface are always amazing, and I elected to ride my bike back down the frost heaved road and back to the Whiteface base lodge.  I stopped at various points along the way to fully take in the sights and smells that are the Adirondacks, appreciating every moment I could. 

At the base lodge I took the opportunity to have a fabulous massage by friend Tim Chien of Balanced Body Work.  I look forward to massages from Tim almost as much as the races themselves, although my once a year schedule is not nearly enough.  If anyone is in LP and feels the need for massage, please see Tim!

The only down-side to the day was the “computer glitch” which made immediate posting of race results impossible.  After this announcement, disappointed racers left the venue, not sure when they would ever know how they did.  Bragging rights were put on hold for all but the first few finishers, and a chance for all to commiserate with their fellow racers was lost.  Results were finally posted on Sunday evening.  I was pleased to find that, while I was the second oldest woman there, I was 14th of 44, and 58 seconds out of 10th place.  I was second of nine in the 50-59 age group, and I saw that no matter what I had done I would not have won.  I’m happy with my race and the decisions I made.

“Summer solstice week” in Lake Placid makes for a wonderfully long day, which Mark Williams and I started at 6 am with a ride from Lake Placid to the Whiteface venue.  Wow!  The sun was already up, but the quiet and calm of the morning made everything look even more spectacular.  In addition to the race and the ride down the mountain we also rode back to our housing at Lake Placid (thank you Norm and Val!) and then I got to go on a nice ride with Janice and Val.  All in all, a wonderfully long day, which we finished off with our drive back home, again through the Adirondacks, that evening.  Life is good!

Thank you for reading J

Friday, May 4, 2012

Climbing My Way to Another Lesson

“Truth is stranger than fiction” is a phrase that I often quote.  Mostly, the truths I refer to are my own.  Pushing myself in some kind of methodical manner has lead me to loftyish places where I never imagined being, and this spring I was able to experience that again.

Less than three months after I had my right hip replaced, and only 5 weeks after I could put 100 percent of my weight on that leg, I signed up for a climbing challenge on a cycling and running web site called Strava.   A Classic Challenge from Specialized  goaded cyclists to climb a total of 105,312 vertical feet between March 15 and April 30.  The significance of this number is that it is three times the total feet of climbing in the Spring Classic races in Europe.  I’ve long been a big fan of climbing, even when the little climbing specialists are dropping me, so I figured I would give this a try and see where I ended up.  Besides, there was a cool water bottle as a reward if you actually did reach that total.

It soon became evident that my normal rides and 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 ante, and change my routes.  I tried not ride anything for more than a mile that registered zero percent grade – what a waste – and opened my eyes to the local hills.

My neck of the woods is fairly generous when it comes to available climbing..  The glaciers left several valleys running from north to south, with steep grades on some of the roads leading to the tops of the ridges.  These roads are mostly all paved, thanks to some free-flowing money in the mid 20th century, and are spaced fairly close together.  While the climbs generally last only 10-15 minutes, getting down to the bottom of the hill to start up another one does not take long either.  Certainly they are not mountains, but we most definitely are not in the plains.  My new plan was to simply go up and down the ridges and choose roads that had steeper grades to accumulate the climbing more rapidly.  I remembered a treasure trove of climbs with grades in the 10-18 percent range.  Yummy!

This was certainly fun and gave each ride an immediate purpose.  I recorded the rides on the Strava app on my Android phone, which soon began to rule my world.  As soon as each ride ended I would upload my ride onto the Strava web site and soon thereafter I would log on to check my progress against my virtual, but real, competitors

So I climbed, descended, and climbed again, and my coach, Mark Fasczewski, enabled me with the gift of longer rides as the weeks wore on.  I was soon in the top 20 out of over 500 women and in around 300th place out of the 10,000 plus people, worldwide, who had signed up for this challenge.  .

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 Mark gave me the green light to absolutely give this my all.  I dropped to 7th, then 6th.  With just a few days to go I found myself in 5th place, and my focus now turned to maintaining that position.  Professional obligations this past Saturday kept me from bagging much of anything, but competing in two events at the Binghamton Circuit Race on Sunday added 4000 feet to the total.  While I should have been tired after racing, I had to remain energized to get out there on Monday –April 30! – for that last day of climbing.

And climb I did, on all the steepest hills I had found between Clinton and Peterboro.  In my longest and toughest ride since Leadville I bagged another 7800 feet in 78 miles, during six hours of riding time.  I got home, uploaded my ride, ate whatever I had left in the house, and then logged on to Strava. My total for the challenge was 137,772 feet.  The waiting game began, but in the end I held on to 5th place for women and managed 107th of the 10,923 people who entered the contest. 

This is, of course, something that I had not even 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.  I rode in abysmal weather, I did nothing but climb, I descended some steep and scary stuff, and I enjoyed almost every demented minute of it. I consumed lots of good products from my sponsor, Hammer Nutrition! The offshoot of this was that my hip is now super-strong and my walking, which I had been having trouble with, is now way better than when I was spending a log of time, well, walking.

Besides bragging rights, what did this challenge give me? Did I get any faster with all this climbing?  Maybe.  Did I get any better at descending?  Maybe not.  My ever-zealous braking kept me from colliding with things like dump trucks, deer, chickens, dogs, people in a daze crossing the road, and manure spreaders.  But whether riding uphill or down, I would be constantly reminded that I live in a beautiful area and that I was so blessed to be able to enjoy it in such a fashion. 

I’ve been reminded, too, 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 heal more quickly, and the fitness I accumulated definitely widened the array of events for me this season.   “Never say never” is another one of my favorite slogans, but I can be guilty of holding myself back with closed-minded thinking.  It is easy for me to see this in the athletes I coach and to help them, but difficult to recognize when I am doing this to myself.  My coach Mark does not have my blinders on when it comes to coaching me.

This challenge has taught me to go with the process, work hard, and see what happens -- to try not to predict the end of the story.  For most of the challenge I never even considered a top five finish, and it is not something that would be predicted for myself, but in the end it absolutely happened.  Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Three Months Later

Most of you know that in December I fell “just the wrong way” in a Cyclocross race and ended up with a shiny new hip! I had that surgery three months ago today, and while it seems like yesterday it also seems like a lifetime ago. So much has happened in such a short amount of time. There are a few things that I still cannot do at present – many yoga poses and long distance running – but those of you who know me also know that I did not spend too much time working on either of those pursuits before I got hurt!

When this first happened I thought that my convalescence would open up lots of free time in which to write a book, blog regularly and catch up on correspondence with long-lost friends. I soon learned that there were still only 24 hours in each day and seven days in each week. Being “disabled” meant that everything I did took longer, and what time I had left over was overtaken by the things that I needed to do to get myself back to “normal.” Two-a-days for in-home physical therapy were the norm. And then there was the exhaustion associated with recovering from the surgery and the ensuing PT. Nap time was a must the first three weeks or so.

Before I collapsed into the recliner, though, I still needed to get my work done. Fortunately I can coach my athletes from where I am located, be it in the hospital (yes, I did this) or on the beach (no, I have not done this lately). My athletes were an understanding lot and most of them got to do whatever they wanted over Christmas – what a lucky bunch! Work got done, writing was put on the to do list.

Of larger importance to me was to do the things that would get me better the fastest so that I could get back to doing the things that I normally did. All that PT was one. Another was to get onto the Computrainer, and do what my body loves to do – pedal my bike. With a lot of help from Phil I was doing so 2.5 weeks after the surgery. The first few days were not pretty, but I grew stronger and soon would quip that I could ride a lot better than I could walk. Eventually, I could even reach the handlebars and shift my bike, and the more I rode the stronger my hip became. My coach Mark Fasczewski has been pushing me since week four, and I am now back to doing Level 4 intervals. Wow, my old Level 4! Some of these recent intervals have been almost respectable, but even when they are not I attack them anyway, knowing now what it is like to just sit in a recliner and wonder if I would have the strength to get up and push my walker into the kitchen.

When this accident happened I was in some of the best shape of my life. (Yes, you can work long and hard and get better as you get older. Hire a good coach and work at it!) I was, of course, dismayed when I was given word that my hip was fractured. However, I also know that cycling, like life, is not without risks. At least I did this while racing and not tripping in a parking lot! I quickly resolved to put all my energy toward healing. I’ve since worked harder than I ever did on my cycling, with some personally pleasing results. I’ve worked hard mastering again the everyday tasks at home, in what Phil calls “being independent.” I learned about all the things we take for granted while we are all temporarily able-bodied.

I would not, however, be even close to where I am today without my family’s constant help and support. Phil was the go to person for everything that happened in our home and for everything that I needed. I was able to accelerate my rehab because Phil would drive me to PT, assist me with in-home therapies and, of course, get me onto my bike. Meals got made, laundry got done, the house was pretty clean, all while I was busy getting better. Just when he needed a break, MK made the trip from Colorado to spend a week taking care of her mom. Melissa Skyped whenever possible from Vietnam and Thailand, regaling us with stories about world travels. My sister Alison dove into my dad’s care-taking when he fell and broke his pelvis. Friends came over with food and smiles and even a Kindle! I was left to focus on recovery.

While there are things that I will put into the back of my mind when I stop to think about the goings-on of the past three months these are the things that I will always strive to remember. Thank you friends and family for giving me your precious time. This blog post is for you.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Power Based Training Certification

It has been a while since I have posted to my blog and I have a really good excuse for not getting to it sooner. Sure, training for Master World Cyclocross Championships is a good excuse, as is breaking my hip in a Cyclocross race on December 17. But, no, that is not the real excuse. Instead, after my last blog post I became involved with, then obsessed with, USA Cycling’s Power Based Training Certification Exam for coaches. The good news is that I passed this exam and I am now Power Based Training Certified. (CPBT)

I have been training with a power meter since 2004, and I have been coaching individuals with power since 2004 as well. Training and racing with a power meter is more than just a title of a book for me, it is what I do! But every once in a while I would download and then start to take the CPBT Exam and I would find out that, yes, it is long and hard and I would need to totally focus on it for quite some time. The exam would get put away and that would be it for a while.

This fall, though, I knew that my time had come. I had so much experience in the field that I wanted that “piece of paper” to back up this experience. The latest version was downloaded in early October and it was off to the races. Well, almost. It was slow going, all the way through. Not only did I want to give the correct answers, but I wanted to back up these answers with a complete understanding of the field. Days turned into weeks.

When I had completed all the multiple choice and essay questions the last part of the exam featured in-depth coaching of three different racers. While this “coaching” should seem like a piece of cake to a cycling coach I treated these athletes as if they were my own. The problem was that they could not just talk to me and tell me how they were feeling after “this” workout or “that” training week. I had to “assume” that these racers were feeling great, no matter what I gave them to do. Of course I had to make sure they did not become overtrained on what I was giving them, but on the other hand I needed to push these hypothetical racers hard enough for some overcompensation to occur as well. And then there was rest…

Did I learn during this exam? Absolutely! Of particular interest was the additional ways I found on the Training Peaks software to rip into an athlete’s power file to examine even more closely what he or she did during the ride, race or multiple intervals. This is fun stuff for a geek like me, and gives me even more ways to assist my athletes. In general, immersing myself even more fully for those two months into this topic opened my power-based mind even more. I would even wake up from dreams about coaching my own athletes as well as the mythical athletes in the exam. Yeah, I can get that way…

Anyway, after two months, I sent off a stack of paper an inch thick to USA Cycling and then started to wait. While recuperating from my hip replacement surgery I found out that I had passed. Yippee! Now I need to get the rest of my paperwork in so that I can renew my license for the year, but I wanted to share this with everyone. Yes, I have a title that says I can do what I had already been doing. But I really think that it will make me even better at what I had already been doing. Happy 2012!