Saturday, December 4, 2010

it's all in your head

Mental fortitude, mind over matter, courage of conviction.. it doesn't matter what you call it, if you don't have a vision of what you want, and if it doesn't sustain you on an existential level, you haven't a hope of reaching your goals. I am always interested in the pain of athletic endeavors, and what it takes to over-ride the incredible urge to quit and get out of the pain zone. Even in a 60 minute strength training workout with Ed on Friday evening, or in this mornings long run when my right forefoot was on fire and my hips were groaning in the 10th cold mile, I am constantly fighting the brain demons, the negative voices. Those little conversations in my head that bizzarely seem to have my voice, yet are trying to get me to quit, to finish early, to walk up that hill, to take the short cut home. Sometimes the counter voice is louder, stronger or more persistent, sometimes not.

When I give in, as I  have done on occasion now over decades of training and racing, I am invariably disappointed, as if I have eaten a full chocolate cake from the fridge in the middle of the night, or watched a beautiful plant die because I couldn't get off my arse to water it. It is this urge to avoid disappointment in myself that pushes me, that gives me strength to finish the appointed workout, and sometimes it is stories like this, that put my mind in a different place, imagining the pain, the difficulty and the suffering, and gaining perspective. Stories like Sam, and Nick never cease to inspire me, and I relish having painful limbs to feel, and feel grateful for the ability to push a mile more, to get another 3 reps done. I will always draw on my early experiences mountain bike racing, 24 hours of Snowshoe WV, in the middle of the night when I was whimpering through the "dark side of the moon" trail, towards the gnarly down hill. I was passed by a guy calling "on your left", and I pushed to the edge of the trail. In the light of my headlamp, I spotted a fella my age, riding by me with a carbon arm attached to his carbon handlebar. "On yer bike missus" he said, and that was enough. On my bike I got, and have kept going since.

M.O.A.B. 2010

Finishing my 5th day in class at 6:30, my brain was like spaghetti and I needed a break. I needed to ditch Provo like a pair of worn out knickers, so I sat heavy on the gas down I-15 past the windmills, and headed for route 6, bearing west-southwest and towards the desert.
says it all..

First night at the Aarchway Inn, I was glad to get a bed, any bed. Even one that was behind a triple lock (didn't bode well). The morning sun on the red Moab rocks outside my window confirmed my doubts about the "hotel", asI had to sidestep someones throwup by the front door, and again outside the front door.
Poison Spider bike shop set me up with a sweet ride, Trek Rumblefish 29er, brandy new, all set with bottles, repair kit and slimed tires. As well as the regular credit card info, I had to give them the make and model of the rental car, my height and weight, and let them know which trails I would be riding. While I first thought that the cute shopgirl was hitting on me, I realized then they were just taking the necessary precautions for when solo riders like myself blow into town with the tumbleweeds at the end of season. The wanted to get the bike back from the desert, and presumably, me with it.  As I was filling the requisite forms and proving my helmet was actually with me, a couple waltzed to the counter and began arguing, eyerolling and huffing as the mandatory helmet-speech was given..I wanted to hand the dumb asses a recent "brain sprain" article from Dirtrag magazine, but just gave a knowing eye to the shopgirl and rolled out of the store.
sinead and shadow, my only company

Back on Amasa Back

Colorado green, 1000 feet down..

Fun fun fun, 3 hours on Amasa back, lunch in town, then greedy mountain bike pig that I am, out onto Slickrock for the end of the day, another 3 hours.
yep, I rode this..

yes this too..

Amasa back is one of the alltime favorite rides in Moab, technical but rideable, especially with my new friend Rumblefish..the full suspension 29er almost feels like cheating, just eating up the nasty climbs, bouncing smoothly over ledges, and giving me the "cojones" to tackle terrain that I was a wee bit hesitant to manage (solo, in the desert, on rocks, edges of cliffs...)
follow the dots home...
Arriving at Slickrock late in the afternoon, there were only 3 cars in the famed parking lot, with the sun diving towards the colorado river. I rode conservatively, getting my brain used to the mind-game of sticking to rock at obscene angles, and clearing all kinds of slopes that would normally have me walking, whining, and crying.
Brandon, Tyler Rob and ?Tim my LDS buddies
One BIFF tore my elbow open, and I thought my knee cap was fractured. I waited it out, then watched 4 out of the 5 guys behind me all slide back down the rockface at the same point as I had just done.  We commiserated and compared wounds, then rode the rest of the loop together. Just as well this group of polite, clean, well groomed ne'er do well Mormon boys adopted me, as we finished the ride with the stars out over Poison Spider Mesa, and the temperature plummeted 20 degrees to freezing.
leaving Slickrock

Back to my lovely abode, this time no puke, I crashed after a bucket of pasta and salad in one of Moab's main street eateries. 10  hours of zzz's. Joy.
local wildlife (4 feet long, 100lbs..not really)
mountain bike in spring, summer, dirtbike in autumn, winter
Next day on Sovereign trails, communing with the dirtbikers, critters and the wide open landscape, I made my peace with sticky, pointy steep rocks, and thanked whatever for the chance to ride, ride alone, and ride (relatively) unscathed.
local restaurant recipies

Dinner alone at Desert Bistro, I said a silent "grace" to the massive elk burger before I swallowed that puppy, and was truly grateful for a belly full of local meat, and a soulful of bike time. Can't wait to come again in May, wanna join me?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

semester 5.. over the halfway hump en route to PhD..

Back in Provo, UT: Early morning dreadmill run, spin or weights got my brain revved up for the 8am start at Rocky Mountain University Semester 5, module 2. Glad to have been moving for the better part of 2 hours, I now sat for 10 hours, brain exploding while my butt was compressing.

Days 1-3: Cory DeRosa and Jim Porterfield: Anatomy, Biomechanics and Pathophysiology of the spine: veritable giants in the PT world, they were a fun tag-team in reality. They used cadaver disections, videos and tons of hard-core science to expand our understanding of ABP spine. My 30 minute presentation on clinical reasoning and model for PT management of low back pain, luckily drew heavily on their prior publications. I swore to them that I wasn't brown-nosing, they rolled around laughing, and then simply admitted they were glad that at least SOMEONE had read their work.

Day 4: Research Methods 3: Mitch Rauh browbeat us for clarification of our methods section for the proposed dissertation. The presentation had to include a detailed account of the variables to be tested along with the appropriate statistical analysis. Phew. While this is a weakness of mine, I can honestly say that I am getting a better handle on this "slippery knowledge" as Dr Allison defines the EBP / Bio-Stats portion. This is the third time around at getting through stats, my B.Sc program was a perfunctory breeze through a little red book (not recalling anything of the contents, I am happy to remember the cover colour). My M.Sc was better, but I ended up farming out the data analysis portion to my classmates husband, a professional statistician, so for this PhD program, I am actually happy to be forced to finally get a grip on this stuff. The night before the presentation, I had a RM3 panic and slashed a whole section on epidemiology from my proposal, but Mitch, the epidemiology specialist with his sunny San Diego ways, talked me down from the statistical ledge. And the dissertation will be a ll the better for it.

Day 5: Pathophysiology and clinical management of pain: Russell Foley: our brains are dead, and perhaps this course should have preceded the ABP spine section. Russell is a great guy with tons of information, but an old, non-interactive style of teaching. We needed interaction by now, since the coffee in Utah is appalling, and  10 hours of class followed by 2-3 hours of prep for the next class is wearing on me. I wallowed through it, mentally promising to get a better handle on the literature later, while planning my escape to Moab that night. My analytical brain is full and my adventure brain needs to get going..

As I get swamped in cytokines,TNF-alpha, spinoreticular tracts and the hypothalmus-pituitary-adrenal axis, Becca and I swapped notes at the back of the class, coming up with nicknames for our classmates that I want to get emblazoned on t-shirts for Christmas gifts.
Jeff: LDS (Mormon) "family guy"
Kunal: (Muslim Indian, math + stats whizz) "smart guy"
Navpreet (Kunals wife, Sikh Indian,chef extraordinaire) "curry chick"
Bob (Californian obsessed with Gluteal function) "glute guy"
Joe (Bostonian pumped weight-lifter, fightin' Irish) "superset guy"
Becca (Portlander, eco-friendly) "PDX chick"
Jason (new to our cohort this semester) "new guy"

Time to get going and rescue my brain..I hug my team mates / classmates goodbye, we will meet again in May, but will be in constant touch over the coming 6 months of submissions. Car loaded, tank full of gas, coffee to go, and I head down route 15 into the night for the next adventure.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stage 4: Etherington to Anchor D ranch

more points, more and more points..
An inauspicious beginning to the 4th stage. I felt well recovered despite sleeping on damp ground and tossing with bike dreams all night. We rode incredible single track to CP #1 at 15k, then another climbing slogfest to CP#2. Dennis's back gave out on the steep climbs, so I grabbed his bike, and pushed. And pushed and pushed, until he was able to ride again. No shame in it, this was the purpose of the the team of two. I knew I was going to have some hard days ahead where I would likely be whining and teary, so for now, I was content to be the one pushing, without the pain. While he lagged behind, frustrated and cranky, I took a few seconds and marveled at the soaring golden eagles and the huge landscape in which we plodded along. The peaks gave way to the endless valleys, filled with cow shit, mud from hoards of cows, and mud rivers. Cattle country they warned us last night. Stomping along in it, sliding down hill in it, losing my favourite Oakleys in it and up to my shins in the sticky brown stuff for hours now, I wondered whether  at a certain point, cowshit acts as chain lube. 15k of it, it took us over 2 hours to hike a bit, ride a bit before we hit the dry trail again, in 4th place again, exhausted and disappointed, but ready to settle down at Anchor D ranch. Having been mired in shit all day, we were more than disappointed to roll into camp and find the tents all perched neatly on piles of wet cow shit, Cattle country indeed. The long day finished with marble sized hailstones, pelting us as we stripped for the showers, then denting the shower truck as we giggled inside.We were finally warm, somewhat clean, our bellies growling for dinner (justifiably with Alberta beef on the menu!) and we were ready another shot at the podium after a good nights sleep.
is there a bike under that mud / cowshit?
Altogether now..singing..

TR2010 Stage 3: Sparwood to Etherington

line up behind Gustavo's head please
Sunny spells and scattered showers. The forecast sounded like the millions of Irish weather predictions that I grew up with. The start line was blustery, but it was still nice and sunny, though cool at 56 degrees as we lined up in the corral again. Music blaring, AC/DC "Highway to hell" being apt, we rode off into the base of the mountains, headed to the wilderness on Stage 3. The TR3 group would be leaving us after this stage, so I knew that the organizers would have designed a wonderful day for us. Not wrong. We had fueled up well and were ready for the dirt: 2k parade around the town at high speed, then off into the hills: 25k of fast, rolling hills on double-track, with a consistent climb to the 40k checkpoint Into the woods, and across the first river of the race. In my short adventure racing career, I was always leery of the river crossings, usually designed to get you wet and miserable, and keep you cold for the rest of the race. I anxiously struggled to find a footing on the slick rocks beneath the roaring water, schlepping my bike at waist height on the first crossing. Since the second and third crossings came soon after, I began to relax in the rivers, enjoyed the cool-down, and I realized we were quickly crossing a watershed, the rivers getting smaller and less vigorous as we continued to climb.
Up into tightly would alders we rode, with the thin branches whipping us as we squeaked by on the barely visible trail. The riding came to an end as the trail kicked upwards, and the alders grew tighter together. While the trail eventually measured 2k, it took almost an hour to beat our way to the top, with some sections of the trail scrabbly rock, and approaching 20% grade at points. Stand up, reach your arms to above head height but not quite overhead, and now lean forward. Imagine pushing a 20+lb bike at this angle, and now imagine it for the next hour, grunting and slipping, stopping to let another grunter by, a stronger one, or one with better traction on their slippery mountain bike shoes. The trail finally let up and turned into this incredible vista of rocky ridges which while treacherous, were rideable and incredible fun. The hike-a-bike-sections continued intermittently, though now above the treeline, were mostly on scree slopes and up rockfaces. What a break! We continued onward and upward, looking back only at the ant-like figures beneath us, finally reaching the top of the CONTINENTAL DIVIDE.. Phew.

our funny Israeli friend gives us some perspective
At the top, the wind was howling over the bare rock, we seemed to be close to the top of the world, and bizarrely, I was reminded of the rocky contours of Connemara, in the west of Ireland. I thought of our friend Andrew, and how he would have loved this landscape too, growing up with similar contours, similar colours, albeit several thousand meters higher than at home.! 2200m high, it was almost dizzying to be pounding over these crests with just a couple of inches of rubber beneath me. We clambered into our rain jackets for wind protection, slammed into a bigger gear, and started the descent. While the climbs were crazy, these descents were epic. Sheet rock, slabs of broken granite, slate, shale, rivers of rock led us down the mountain side. It was just like Aviemore (Singlespeed World Championships 2008 Scotland) I shouted at Dennis, except longer, more, higher, and harder!There was no "trail" as such, we simply followed the mud patches of previous riders, picking the sweetest and safest trail down as we bounced and slid and let it rip. On 29er hard-tails, this was the only section I felt that I would have likes a full suspension bike, as about an hour of this had my sacrum aching, and my hands tingling from the pounding. All things considered, the GF Superfly held up well, and I was glad of the light agile machine, constantly amazed how it withstood the beating it was getting. Legs were alternating with cramps, right hamstring, left Quad, right Quad, left Hamstring, Calf, Calf, Hamstring, Hamstring. Like some weird muscle dance, after 5 hours in the saddle, I was getting too tired to get off the saddle to shock absorb, and was getting thrown about with rocks and cramps tossing me about. I knew we were positioned well though, since the Brazilians weren't too far in front, and I hadn't seen Brian and Cricket since the top of the CD. We pegged the last 15k, tag teaming the final single-track sections, across the last 3 rivers for 5:28:00,  66.8k, another third place on the podium for the days efforts, and back to 3rd overall in our group. Happy. I sat on the dirt ground in front of the massage tent while I  inhaled a burger, too tired to even get a massage. Eat, snooze in the sun, eat again, then awards.I did a mental inventory of the day's intake: 
Breakfast: pancakes x 3, scrambled eggs x 2-3, OJ, coffee, french toast x 1, yoghurt x 1, banana x 1.
On the bike: Hammer gel x 5 (in flask) honeystinger packets x 3, Endurolytes x 10, Ultimo carb drink x 2 20oz bottles, Heed 3 x 20oz bottles, 
Post-race: Burger + whatever was on it, Chips, Protein honey stinger bar, Recovery drink with protein 20oz,
Dinner: 2 servings of pasta + some kind of meat, tons of bread, veggies, beans, chickpeas salads, 3 1/2 CC cookies, 1 glass of wine. Phew. One sure thing about this kind of racing, you might be afraid of crashing, but you can't be afraid of eating. Ready to rock stage 4. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TR2010: stage 2: Fernie to Sparwood

more pointy mountains

Sitting down indian-style in the tent, with a bottle of Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris (yesterdays podium wine) served at perfect tent-temperature (61-62 degrees), in Styrofoam cups, to recap on todays stage 2. It was a hustle in the early dawn in Fernie, to get the duffel bags packed and loaded into the truck, bike checked and ready, breakfast pounded down and bottles filled. Phew, I was already sweating and panting. 
start line.. we are mid-pack I think
Stage 2 from Fernie to Sparwood was a 71k stage with the first 30k straight uphill. Pointy start, very steep descent, then some bumps to finish. I was beginning to see a theme here. The first 10k was furious, a veritable time-trial on hard-packed dirt roads, we blew past the first check point, stopping only to strip arm warmers after a couple of hours and a few pints of lost sweat. The second check point was at 40k, after the crazy descent. Dennis and I planned to meet at the top, check in at the peak then I was to follow his line down. Nice plan Bat man. 
downhill finally, no white knuckles..sit back, relax!
When we finally slogged it to the top, Dennis was having back pain, nausea and dizziness, I think the altitude was kicking in, as well as a blinding pace in the granny gear for almost 2.5 hours. None-the-less, several minutes of stretching later, we entered the crazy single-track near the top of the continental divide, dropped over the edge of a cliff on a trail as wide as my forearm, and began the plunge down. We dropped over 1100m in 5km. Do the math. All I remember is scree at a bizarre angle to my usual horizon, trees at a strange angle to the earth, and a tiny trail winding down towards the bowels of the earth. And it sounded like this.."woohoooooohheeeehhheeeeeeeewwwheee ooo o  o   hoooohhhhheeeeee" for about 30 minutes more. The tag line of the Transrockies is as follows.."some days may feel like they last forever, but really, you're just having the ride of your life". When I signed up, I though it was corny. Now mid-way through day 2, I knew these TR people weren't joking. A skull marked the last dangerous corner of the descent, or so we had been warned the night before, no sign of it as we blew past the hairy off-camber 170degree  switchback with dropoff, and down to the final section of descending trail. 
The rest of the ride was a bit of a blur, lots of rolling roads, mostly hard-packed dirt, lots of stopping to wait for Dennis who was suffering like a dog. He had ridden his heart out on the technical sections, and really enjoyed the screaming  descent, but the seated climbs were killing his back. He was also on his second saddle of the race, the first having died in the middle of yesterdays race, now this piece of Specialized + Bontrager crap was angled at 20 degrees pointing north into his nether regions, and was wedged there. We stopped and started, taking the time to enjoy the spectacular mountain vistas, and keep an eye out for roving grizzlies. I began to appreciate the benefits of team riding, I rode about 200 yards ahead, creating a mental tether for Dennis to view, but not getting to close for fear of hearing any grumbling. The tandem passed us, yes, a crazy couple from St. Louis were racing this on a tandem!! We tried to hop on their dust trail and bomb the last few miles, but Sandy and Ted had us pipped. 5:25 in the saddle, we lost 3rd place today by a mere 5 minutes. We rolled into Sparwood to a huge welcome from the mining town, and promptly lay flat while guzzling as much Coke as we could. Burbling bellies, jellied legs and exhilarated spirits, we hopped on the shuttle to transfer us to Elkford, tonight's campsite. Our tents, while yesterday had seemed cramped and damp, today seemed like a sweet haven. Bike wash, bike repair (new pads, totally burnt out the rear pads today), bike worry( should I replace the front ones too? Do I have another set for later in the week?), laundry (fast becoming a synonym for getting some mud off the shorts and jersey) in a squishable 1 gallon bucket, hang on the wire fence surrounding campground (on a baseball field in some remote mining village). We enjoyed the last of the wine, this time no cups available, just the earplugs container. We were entering the wilderness the next day, so I had better get used to roughing it a bit. Wine was fine, no ear-wax either, bonus!
We wished our buddies Andrew, Danny and Marty were here as they would totally die for the killer scenery and the epic riding.. Ah well, plans for 2011 building already. Pound down the dinner, awards, second dinner, preview of the next day, and crash. Again I was sensing a pattern. Bring it on, I am just getting warmed up!