Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are You Ready?

I would compare my training at this juncture to the late, final stages of a long pregnancy minus the hemorrhoids and food cravings (okay, so I crave ice cream on a daily basis right now but no other systemic issues are present). People are not reaching out to touch my taught, stretched belly (which I am thankful for), but more so, they are asking the questions you may ask a woman who is facing 12-20 hours of sweaty, loud, painful labor…

Are you ready?”….”Do you think it will hurt?”….”Who is going to be there with you?”…”How long do you think it will take?”

Like most “first time mothers” or “first time century riders”….I do not know the answers to ANY of these questions. While I have picked the brains of ALL of my friends, exhausted may late night Google searches, surfed every blog in multiple languages, I am still uneducated on the exact process. There are no prescribed instruction manuals….it is something very individual with so many variables that a mathematician would get a headache trying to generalize the experience. I could tell you I am ready….rearing to go… ready for THE BIG HILL but I may not be telling you the truth. I would like to think that my training has prepared me much like expectant mothers hope Lamaze class is useful although I cannot ride with a comfy pillow (oh but if I could—I would be so happy!). I have a nice spinning stride on accents complete with rhythmic breathing and inner cranial chanting “up Melinda….up Melinda…up Melinda.” Sometimes, I chant out loud….but HEY I am a woman about to cycle 150+ miles in two days, so I can talk to whomever I want….even if no one is near me (okay, so maybe I have mood swings and cravings)! There is no soothing music…I have to listen for cars although at times some of the radio music makes me sing along.

I could tell you that my body is a finely oiled machine and that I expect the pain to pass with little or no effort. Truthfully, I do not realistically know what my body will do. My thighs and calves are like rocks right now…solid masses of muscle fibers and skin applied to a small 5’2” frame. I could get out there and have my thighs catch fire scorching the spandex off of my odd tanned legs. While training has brought on constant, dull pain, I fully understand and accept that the century will bring on a new pain and that it will likely tip the pain scale (1-10 with 10 being …”DEAR GOD WHY DID I DO THIS?”). Unlike childbirth, there are no epidurals, saddleblocks, IV drips, or other drugs to put me in a drunken stoned stupor (I have considered putting gin in my water bottle….but this would not help). This ride is done au natural without a “labor coach”! I know to expect blisters, saddle sores, and bruising on my groin and butt (there are many graphic pictures on the internet to completely petrify me). Hopefully, as I recall the ride to my friends months from now, I will neglect those graphic details of me bending over in a mirror trying to draw constellations from blister to blister (you do weird things when oxygen deprived).

I have always joked that should I ever give birth to an actual child, I would NOT want my father present in the labor room. There is no modesty in having your knees pushed apart to reveal a grotesque and beautiful life process while your father looks on (NO THANK YOU! PUT THE CAMERA AWAY). But with the century ride, I want my daddy there. He has been at every major finish line and although my training partners are amazing, dedicated, supportive and appreciated, there is NOTHING like crossing the line and having my dad there with his smile to make the pain go away and to remind me that even at 32, I am a daddy’s girl. I suspect he will be standing there with some sort of food…comfort food…with ice cold Gatorade.

I have heard mothers say that all the pain, all the worry, and all the work is worth it when you set eyes on your squirming newborn. I am not obviously bringing a child into the world but I feel when this is all over, I will have brought about a new sense of accomplishment, a feeling of relief in knowing it is over AND, stories to share. Right now, I am nesting, constantly cleaning the bike, trying to not ignore any vital details and packing my cycling bag to leave on the morning of September 12th. I guess some comfort I can enjoy is that I will not be having Braxton Hicks contractions or early birth. It is not very likely that they will change the date of the ride.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cinderella’s Slipper Was Really A New Balance 850

Because cycling just isn’t enough torture and because I fear that over the winter months, I will be tempted to eat every carb loaded holiday cookie, cake, pie, and mashed potato, gravy plate in site, I have signed up (meaning I paid MONEY) to do the Tecumseh Trail marathon in December (in Indiana). What a way to close out the year and ring in the holidays with my legs burning, lungs heaving, and the possibility of throwing up in front of 100+ strangers (okay, so far I know 2 other runners).

I have wanted to do a trail marathon for some time and I figured with all the cycling training, my legs will morph into a running machine. Okay, maybe not…my feet are small, with high arches….when I run, it is like watching a toddler chase after a ball…sloppy. You would think being so compact, I could move like the wind….but my inseam is only about 26”…so my stride is shoooorrrrt. So, like most physically challenging competitions, I strive to finish….alive…and well.

Trail running is that challenge of “how-to-not-break-your-ankle-on-tree-roots” each and every training day. My first run to see where my “base” is quickly assured me of ONE thing….I needed new shoes. Now, any girl on the planet would LOVE a pair of new shoes. Usually I get very excited about high heels and by high I really mean three or more inches. The more uncomfortable, the better—I usually prefer something that blisters quickly. It means they are sexy (usually). I do not get excited about running shoes, however. My old pair…the ones I love…are well worn… mold to my foot….they are losing traction…they are SO COMFORTABLE (they smell)…until I run in them and then I can feel small pangs of pain in my thighs, hips and shins.

The task of buying a new pair of running shoes involves repeat appearances in a running store located near an area of town where you are more likely to see a tricked out Camaro than an athlete. This store prides itself on feet. They fit you to the perfect shoe for YOUR running style based on your foot size, shape and how it hits the ground. For 20-30 minutes you are Cinderella looking for the perfect shoe and people fitting them onto your feet. They teach you how to walk and even if you have been doing it since you were 14-months old….trust me, you have things to learn. My preferred shoe is a New Balance…which works well for my small size 6.0 feet. Nike DOES NOT work with my feet or as the gentleman told me while holding my foot dangerously close to his nostrils, “You can’t wear Nike young lady…you are not their demographic.” Well…OKAY.

So now, in my closet among sexy heels, bike shoes, Dansko’s, and Birkenstocks is a new pair of New Balance 850. It is hard getting to know a new running shoe. It feels stiff and I know that a set of odd blisters await my first run with them. More importantly, this means my old shoes…the ones that fit me PERFECTLY are ready for the dumpster. Breaking up with a pair of old running shoes is like shoving your best friend out of your life. I know that three runs with the new shoes, we will be well acquainted and used to each other….but it is more about the apprehension of starting over and getting used to each other. Cinderella does not like to change her shoes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Lack Super Powers

Ahh, training, the true definition of insanity. On a sultry summer Saturday morning while most of the city is sleeping in, or trying to erase the memories of their wild Friday night, I am frantically running around the house trying to remember where I put my SPECIAL pH balanced chamois cream so I can meet another rider for an 8AM ride. I can barely get a half a cup of coffee down, let alone, required CALORIES. My body wakes up in sections and the mid-section is slow. I have to FORCE down a Gu, oatmeal, or a chunky, dry, tasteless Cliff bar. Then while a majority of the city enjoys cartoons, crosswords, trendy coffee shops, and fun farmers markets, I am dodging headless turtles, road divots, and a Miata that passes so close, I could see the inscriptions on the drivers wedding band. THIS IS TRAINING! YEEE-HAW!

I have been until now very pleased with training. Longer rides are becoming the preference and I am getting used to most of my Saturdays and Sundays being spent in spandex, sweating, grunting, and drinking “piss” flavored sports drinks (not my term….another rider). I have dropped weight…built muscle and overall, altered my lifestyle to include healthier food and less beer (there is always sacrifice). The only real disappointment is my right knee. A recent long ride resulted in me desiring a chain saw to remove my leg just above the knee for some relief. It started out as a dull pain around mile 48….then around mile 50….it was FULL ON pain…a stabbing, wrenching pain. Then, mile 54, it subsided enough that I could make it home. At this point I was convinced that I had done something wrong….I was not making full circles…pedaling too hard…using that leg more….but after a rather panicked email to experienced riders, I learned….I have IT BAND issues…I am NOT invincible or impervious to this common, ordinary pain issue.

I have ran for years….and always prided myself that I never endured any IT Band issues. What is the IT Band? A stretch of muscles up to the hip area and when inflamed, overused, or tightened too much….IT FEELS LIKE SOMEONE IS RUNNING BESIDE YOU STABBING YOUR KNEE WITH A SHARP KNIFE. I have seen runners crumple to the ground clenching their knee or hip in dire pain from this ailment. The cure? Well….this depends on WHO you ask. EVERYONE becomes an expert when you mention this problem (not meant sarcastically, literally very experienced cyclists have offered good varied advice). I have heard ice, compression, heat, massage, stretching, adjusting my bike, or getting a new leg (probably not in my price range and I could not get just ONE leg). The goal is NOT to push it too far….and this is the REAL challenge.

Everything hurts when you first start riding a bike. Your joints, fingers, toes, hips, legs and butt all ache and sometimes ALL at the same time (it would make a good Aleve commercial). The prescription to cure these common newbie issues is to “push” through it. A strained IT band is different; Everything I have read, says, rest, and a combination of the above recommendations will cure it or at best make it manageable. However, REST is done in doses when you are training. I have a pretty strict schedule I follow….and I am going to be disappointed if I cannot finish the century ride because of my ONE DEFECTIVE knee. Until now, all I worried about was finishing, not bonkinig, not crashing, not causing a crash, not throwing up (yes, I have worried about this)….I never worried about my LEMON KNEE. I am also that kind of person….like many people on bikes…that ignore what their body is saying sometimes. I like to pretend that I do not feel the pain….or that it does not exist. YOU CANNOT IGNORE THIS PAIN…your body SCREAMS at you.

So for now, I am following a regimen of icing, elevation, and stretching. I am not wearing heels to work. The bike is in the shop being dialed…just right, and I am going to have to find some comfort in knowing that I am pretty ordinary…and not Super Woman. Damn…I really like her spandex.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I never thought I would say this….I am a cheater…

About three years ago, I invested in a quality mountain bike. I spent several months researching exactly what I wanted but I finally committed…after courting several different mountain bikes, full suspension, hard tail, and I settled very happily with a Trek 8000 hardtail. I actually purchased the bike in the dead of winter which was a cruel thing to do to myself. It sat there in my bedroom, new and shiny until an unusual warm day in January. The first ride was love at first crank.

That spring and summer, any and every chance I could find, I rode that bike. It was a weird reaction but I was thankful for a long and dusty drought that took over the city. It made the trails accessible virtually anytime of day. We were inseparable that summer. It was our blissful honeymoon phase. It took me a while to tune the bike (named: Willie Nelson) just as I liked but once configured just right, we spent hours riding off into the sunset, sharing scabs, creating stories and falling in love.

But I am sorry to say, that I am a HORRIBLE bike partner. This year….my eyes have wandered…I could not help myself. The shiny new road bike is everything the mountain bike is not. It is sleek, fast, and stiff. I did not think I would be attracted to something like the road bike. Sure….like most cyclists, I considered crossing over here and there…”trying it out” but….a lesson I have learned in cycling is that you are most often defined by ONE or the OTHER….you ride knobby or slick…but NOT both (oh the horror). I have heard some say, it’s like cheating. Roadies do not like trails and trails do not like roadies (as the story has been told to me). But this year, I could not resist…I gave in and this morning on my way out the door and I felt the rear tire on my mountain bike and I would say, it is lucky if it is holding twenty pounds of air. (Sigh). I have cheated on Willie Nelson.

It has to be hard for my poor mountain bike to sit there on its rack while I clean, rub, and scrub the road bike after every long ride. I prance the road bike in front of the Trek as a cherished house guest while its tires go flat and it hangs there lifeless, ignored. I AM A HORRIBLE BIKE OWNER. On the two prong rack, the road bike goes on top…an unintentional sign of its place in my heart right now. They are TWO very different bikes—how could one really compare? The road bike responds with the slightest touch of my fingers and rolls smooth. The other bike requires constant “man handling”, grunting, groaning and rough housing. Is it possible I am in love with both forms? Oh dear goodness…what a pickle. Thankfully cycling polygamy is allowed, which is good because my wandering eye will not quit…I am looking a cross bike…and who knows, I may end up with a tandem.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back That Thing Up...

A few months back as the road bike was becoming a reality I found a T-Mobile jersey on E-bay decorated in hot pink flames. I was immediately drawn to this jersey for two main reasons. One…it is bright and I like to fool myself in believing that a motorist will notice BRIGHT colors before decorating their hood with my spandex covered carcass. The second reason….quite frankly, it was bad ass. I sent the link around to a few friends….and one responded, “you gotta be able to back that up!”. I knew what he meant.

Anyone can go out and purchase a bike and just the same, they can purchase a jersey (and all the OTHER crap that goes along with cycling) but this does NOT mean you know HOW to ride a bike. I know what you are thinking…you are thinking back to when you were three, four, or five and the moment your training wheels came off….you are thinking, “I know how to ride a bike Melinda.” Trust me, I thought the same thing….but also trust me when I say this…when you get a road bike in your thirties…you have to learn ALL OVER what you thought you already knew.

When you finally invest in a serious road bike, you have to learn NEW rules. Clip in…clip out…lean with your hips, stand up, sit down and avoid the things that you aimed for as a child like, puddles, mud, and curbs. There are rules for passing, drafting, pulling and hand signals for stopping, slowing, turning, and flatulence (okay, there is no known gesture for this but if you watch the signals for slowing, it would be easy to convince the riders behind you that Mexican night is still lingering). So the rule goes…when you start out on the bike, you have to pay your dues, learn as much as you can and practice as often as you can find time. You cannot come out of the gate and act “badass” , suited up in a badass jersey unless you are truly badass and let’s face the facts…I am not badass….I am still waiting for the training wheels to come off (metaphorically speaking).

A true definition of “Badass” are the guys (and gals) I rode with Saturday. They make a 50-mile ride look like a quick ride to get milk and eggs at the store. While they are making overt sexual jokes laughing out loud-- I am hoping I packed enough food, drank enough fluids and find my not-so-Christian self praying that I can keep up with their pace. While they are pulling on each other’s jersey’s and popping wheelies like teenagers, I am negotiating my cadence and clipping in and out at every red light. Another seasoned rider whose sarcastic sharp wit holds him upright on the bike rode beside and begin coaching me NOT to clip out at every stop light but telling me to pull up slowly and wait for green, the early formations of a track stand and a way to conserve some energy. IT TOOK EVERY BONE IN MY BODY TO RESIST A HABIT I HAVE BEEN DOING ALL SEASON…I could feel my ankle turning at the first sight of a light and then I would hear him bark, “DON’T DO IT!”….immediately like a greenhorn jarhead staring back at his larger than life commanding officer, I would respond, “yes sir” and quickly survey the street that I may be scraping with my elbows soon. But there were no falls….a seasoned rider knows what they are talking about. A jarhead is required to listen and respond accordingly.

I spent most of the ride responding to his yapping orders…”close that gap!”…”get up here”…”lay off those brakes”…and when you are thirty-miles from home and still somewhat worried about bonking, you find you will listen to someone who has been there, someone who knows because your goal at that point is to get home, in one piece, alive and well.

Once home, I peeled off my one and only jersey, a brightly colored Cannondale Volvo jersey that also was found on ebay sometime back. It makes Rainbow Bright look tame. It lacks the “badass-ness” of the T-Mobile jersey with flames but you can’t half ass…badass…

Friday, August 7, 2009

Priorities…Obsession…or Something Else?

I made the joke on Monday night that I was not too worried as I watched an elderly gentleman obviously with a burrito craving slowly almost back his large Lincoln Towncar into my ol’ Volvo in the Q-Doba parking lot. I believe the exact comment was:

“Well, it is paid for and fully insured, so honestly the best thing that could happen to that car-- is that it be wrecked…otherwise I plan to drive this thing until it is bolts…”
I am reminded once again of the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

THE VERY NEXT MORNING my car became a pile of bolts, actually rusted, stripped bolts, mud and sewage. I always figured the Volvo would die like most German engineered
machines,slowly and gracefully, maybe on the side of a wildflower bed on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon. I figured the odometer would read 400,000+ miles and that there were a couple more years of stories, camping trips, and bike rides left. Instead….my Volvo drowned in my own work parking lot, surrounded by many other coworkers cars. I stood there unable to move or mobilize an auto rescue AS one of the WORST flash floods in history filled the streets around me with over six feet of brown water. The back seat contained my bike helmet, (2) pairs of cycling gloves, and my bike shoes. My friends were not that surprised that when they called to ask if I needed anything, a ride home, to borrow a car or food--I responded, “Can you give me a ride to the bike shop?”

My first thought when I realized that my car was truly ruined was….”how am I going to transport my bike? How am I going to train for the Old Kentucky Home Tour? I cannot do loops in the park” By the end of the day, I had borrowed my dads car, which can hold ONE bike in the trunk, replaced my sewage soaked helmet and ordered (1) new pair of cycling shoes. As far as I am concerned, all the basic necessities are covered. OH WAIT! I have to junk my car….well that was officially done by Wednesday morning.

So all the priorities are taken care of…except for the new car. I am trying to be patient and not rush out too quickly and purchase something I will not be able to drive forever. Of course, if my bike were flooded, I would be on the phone today, purchasing a new one. Maybe I have a problem…

Monday, August 3, 2009

Choose Your Training Partners Well...

I have trained for races alone and with others. It is different to train for a race alone than with a partner or two. I prefer multiples. Training in groups prevents long drawn out conversations with myself. If I am lost, I have someone to be lost with and if I hit my wall, someone else can tell me what my "F-U face" really looks like (I hear it is NOT pretty!). The most valuable lesson you can learn is to choose your training partners well. It is no different than placing a personal ad (of which I have not done....yet)....

Over zealous cyclist seeks supportive female (or male) partners to share pain, torture, scrapes, bruises, and road side urination with. No competition, no stagnation, and no frowning allowed. Be prepared to share your feelings, your laughter and snorting with others. Must love Amish farms selling sweets and be prepared to save all wildlife. Self-centered attitudes are NOT allowed or tolerated.

For the Old Kentucky Home Tour, I chose and ex-EMT and a very experienced athlete to complete my first century with. This was a WISE choice. First, the EMT is ready at any moment to spring back into her days of asking basic questions in a loud tone while waving her finger back and forth to check you for subdural hematoma. Should I find myself careening into a rock filled ditch, falling over at a stop sign, or hitting a speed bump and lunging myself forward, I know I am in good hands. Meanwhile the SUPER experienced athlete makes even the largest, steepest and angriest of hills look easy and effortless. I gasp, huff, and engage in rhythmic breathing much like Lamaze all the while hearing her say, "you got it sister," "you can rock this,". Other additional people on the rides have included friends who cycle for fun and not for the masochists century ride but now find themselves pushing their limits and completing their longest rides ever on Saturday mornings/ afternoons.

Our longest ride of 54.5 miles was completed on Saturday. The ride included a menagerie of adventures including:

An elderly gentleman crashing his cruiser bike and incurring a painful, bloody abrasion. All of us ladies being social workers attempted to escort the gentleman home but we were no match for the farmers market which distracted him from his bleeding. (I was thankful that a friend Pat was not on the ride...as he has had to witness other mammal rescues).

An outburst of childlike behavior as we had to "turn right on Penile Road"...(what did you say? Yes, you heard correct). Three women had to stop for photo opps, continual laughter and jokes no greater than a sixth grade level. That lasted for MILES.

The continual search for "just the right spot" to empty a bladder or two filled with at minimum (2) water bottles each. A well placed ditch doubled as an appropriate loo...and shyness was overcome for one rider as the EMT explained to my friend, "Grow a pair and pee..." She overcame her "ditch urination procrastination" with minimal effort.

A closed bridge did NOT stop three ladies who crossed a creek in cycling shoes, spandex, and helmets handing each bike over to another rider. A recumbent cyclist seemed most impressed that we paid NO attention to the DETOUR sign. We made our OWN detour.

A run in with "Sugar Baby", and "Sophia", two pooches at a quaint home occupied by a generous woman who shared her tap water and her lack of direction with us. (The road we sought was less than a mile from her home)

Lactic acid burn which caused us to discuss our own self-image issues, our future lives, the good, the bad, the ugly, our possible limitations on a 50+ mile ride, and food choices post ride.

A nearly flat back tire was QUICKLY assessed and filled with a CO2 cartridge of which we had NO idea how to use. We mated the two pieces together until a frosted cold came over our hands shooting a small white cloud into the air. The tire went from a wet noodle to rock hard in seconds, preventing any rescue calls 30-miles from home.

The last five miles of the ride were a mental game. I had to keep the legs moving, spinning, and stop lights did not help. I groaned, I grunted, I considered napping on my handlebars. Then, I was home, on the couch, freshly showered, filled with waffle fries, memories, and exhaustion. I am thankful for my training partners. They are the types of ladies you would want in the delivery room with you. Somehow, they would make it better and full of adventure and I would not have to pee in a ditch.