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Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK weekend on bikes

The Berryman ride over the long Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend has become a Team Virtus tradition.  In the past, we've gone the night before and stayed with Luke's family, but with this year's mild forecast the guys were all about camping.  Being more of a fair-weather camper, I was less enthused, but I knew I'd regret sitting in a hotel room knowing my friends were having fun without me.  Score one for FOMO over FOH (fear of hypothermia).

I left straight from work and made good time to meet Patrick at Berryman campground.  We hung out and admired the incredible night sky until Luke, Robby, and the Lederhosens showed up, and then we all started setting up at our campsite.  Some of the Dirty Dog Race Pack group were staying in a cabin at the nearby Huzzah Valley Resort, and Josh, Shannon, and Chris stopped by the campground to say hi and then left us with some firewood. Thanks!

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Our fire was cozy but not particularly warm unless you were really close.
Photo credit: Luke Lamb
The daytime temps had been in the low 50's, which is amazing for the Midwest in January, but once the sun went down so did the temperature.  We huddled close to the fire as first Bob and then Dave showed up, and eventually we were tired and chilly enough to all head to bed.

I just bought a new sleeping bag to replace the cheapo Wal-Mart one I've been using. This new one is rated to 32*, which didn't concern me when I bought it because I had no intentions of doing any winter camping. Little did I know that just a week later I'd be trying it out in January. I started out in thermals and thick socks but woke up pretty cold a few hours later. After shivering for a while, I finally gave in and put on a sweatshirt. That helped, but I was still chilly.  On the plus side, waking up wasn't so hard since I wasn't sleeping that well anyway.

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Hanging out at the campsite before riding.
Photo credit: Kevin Autenrieth (I think)
The campground filled up with truck and cars all loaded down with full bike racks. We'd planned to roll out around 8:30 but didn't end up leaving until closer to 9, so we missed seeing everyone at the start.  The trails were in great shape early on, still frozen and packed solid.  I stopped before one extended section of ice and then immediately felt wimpy as Luke passed me and rode right onto it.  My wimpy feelings were quickly dispelled when he fell after about two pedal strokes.

We had a pretty good-sized group: Luke, Robby, Bob, and I from Virtus; BOR's Scott and Kevin; Team Godzilla's Jody and Kevin, along with Kevin's brother-in-law Doug; Monster Bicycles' overlord Jim Smith, Chuck, Amanda, Dave, and my cousin Bob.  I had a great time riding along with so many fun people, and while I was definitely more skittish on logs than last time I was there, I felt good riding and fairly strong on the uphills.  We marveled over how beautiful the day was and how great the trails were; with the warmer weather we knew that there was a good chance trail conditions would have been too soft for riding, so we were prepared to ride forest roads and gravel but thrilled not to need to.

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Mandatory icicle group photo
Photo credit: Scott Shaw
My technical skills leave plenty of room for improvement, but I was more confident on the trails than in the past, which is always a nice feeling.  There were a couple of spots I had to walk because of tricky uphill roots, but there weren't any hills I had to walk because I couldn't ride the hill.  The one negative for me was that I was starving. I'd eaten oatmeal for breakfast, but apparently that wasn't enough. We were riding at a chill pace and taking plenty of stops to regroup, but even with all of the breaks I couldn't eat enough to get rid of that hungry feeling.

Eventually our easy pace and the beautiful weather combined to thaw the trails. Not wanting to tear them up, we pulled out our maps (by "we" I mean the people who brought them...I'd actually printed one out and left it back at the campsite. Amanda had a nice topo map of the area, which was a huge help.) to figure out where the closest bailout was.  Turning onto the Ozark Trail where it splits from the Berryman, we then almost immediately were able to hop onto a forest road.

If you've never been on a forest (forest service? I don't really know what they're called) road, you might be picturing the kind of road you'd drive your car down.  That's not exactly it, as I was disappointed to realize at the first CAC non-race:
When we finally made it to the road Chuck had been promising me, I looked at it in disbelief. My brain isn't entirely tuned to the adventure racing channel yet; when I hear road, I still think of STREETS. This was barely a jeep road. Dirt, rocky, rutted, muddy in spots. Not quite the relief I'd been anticipating, but at least I wasn't pushing my bike up any more rock cliffs.
This time I knew exactly what to expect, and while it wasn't the smooth, flowy singletrack, the rocky, grassy, unmaintained doubletrack was its own kind of fun.  It also offered some navigational challenges as the guys who were navigating worked to figure out if we were where we thought we were and where we needed to go next.

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See where we're all standing? That's the road.
Photo credit: Amanda
Their nav was dead-on, and eventually we climbed a big hill and popped out onto gravel.  While smooth and well-packed, these roads offered their own challenge with plenty of climbing and a trip down memory lane when we came to a stop at a crossing I recognized from my very first Berryman Adventure Race.

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Gravel roads...take me home...or at least back to the campground.
We spent as much time on roads as we had on the trail, but the scenery was great, the weather was beautiful, and the company was awesome. You just can't complain about a day like that, and all the uphills just made the BBQ at the end taste that much better.

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Post-ride!
The cool thing about having a post-ride get-together is that you still get to hang out with all the people who are too fast for you to ride with or who weren't interested in riding, and we had plenty of good company.  When the sun set, we cleaned up and headed back to our campsite and a second evening of hanging around the campfire, this time with Chuck's secret-recipe chili and Amanda's delicious fried potatoes and a large variety of Orange Lederhosen's whiskey to keep us warm.

With an even colder night on tap, I made a couple of changes to my sleeping arrangements. I started off in thermals, a hooded sweatshirt, a hat, and light gloves. I'd also brought my bivy, which I'd brought along in case I decided to try it out this weekend, into the tent.  When I woke up chilly again around 2 a.m., I slid myself, sleeping bag and all, into the bivy and that was enough for me to finally be warm and cozy until morning.

After packing up, most of us made the trek into Steelville to meet Jim and Janie at the Spare Rib Inn, home of gigantic, cheap, delicious breakfasts.  From there, the Smiths, Chuck, and Patrick all headed home, and Bob, Luke, Becca, and I drove to the Joe Dirt ride in nearby St. James.  For some reason the guys felt the need to look up directions to the ride despite my clear understanding of our route (You drive to where the highway splits and then turn left, and then it's off on your right...there's a parking lot there...). Whatever, it was good enough for me.

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We followed each other's blogs when we both had them, and now we just like each others' bike pictures on Facebook.
We got there in plenty of time to change and socialize.  My Momentum teammates Mickey and Joe were there, and I finally got to meet Tracy and Don (longtime facebook friends) in person and to see Dave, who I met a couple years ago at a MLK ride, again.  Planning a relaxed pace, Luke, Bob, and I started towards the very back of the large group, but we didn't have long before catching up with the pack again.

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Standoff
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Peat and SS-Kate
The route passed over a county road which apparently a nearby land-owner sees as his private turf, so he'd blocked the road with a tractor. The ladies on horseback to the right were pretty hostile, too. After some conversation, the tractor guy moved off the road and then gave everyone a friendly wave as we passed by. Weird. The horse ladies, on the other hand, remained hostile; we encountered them later on up the road as they drove their loaded horse trailer pretty close to where our bikes were stopped at the edge of the road.

That unpleasantness took a little bit of the shine off the day, but we had plenty of sun and scenery to brighten our moods.  And a few hills...

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Last year, on my first loop, I had to walk the first and last major hills of the ride. This year I was able to ride all of them, which felt like a huge accomplishment. Of course, last year I rode an entire (26 mile) lap at Berryman and then rode two laps at Joe Dirt (46 miles). This year I only rode one loop, so I really needed those uphills. 

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Towards the top of the first hill...I think...
The temperatures had to be in the high 50's to low 60's, and the hills quickly had me regretting the thin tech shirt under my jersey.  The roads were in great shape, well-packed, but the thaw had left quite a few sections soggy and soft, making the riding more of a challenge there.

Another challenge was the navigation. I felt like I had a good memory of the course from last year, so I kept telling Luke, "If I remember right, we're going to turn right up here," only to have the course arrows point in the other direction.

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I did remember this stretch of road, though. I love the look of these gravel roads.
 
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Good times with good friends!
 In the "some things never change" department, despite my vast improvement on downhills, the guys screamed past me on every single one of them. They're way braver than me any day, and the combination of soggy gravel and gentle curves made me considerably more tentative.  Another thing that hasn't changed is seeing Luke waiting at the top of a climb. While I was happy to get to the top without walking, he crushed the hills on a singlespeed.   He's been doing the Sufferfest videos pretty regularly, and his riding was a great advertisement for their effectiveness. I'm going to have to actually break mine out.

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Just hangin' out, having a snack.
I was having a good time, and I knew I could ride another lap, but I had no desire at all to do so. I felt a little guilty about that, since I knew Luke wanted to.  Come February, I'm going to have to start sticking things out so that I'm ready for Dirty Kanza, but I'm giving myself January to wimp out and only do what I want to do.

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Pretty rural scenery, and incredible to be in shorts in January.
I was pretty happy at mile 20, knowing that I only had another 3 miles, but the road kept going and going.  I was surprised to I looked at my Garmin again and saw it at mile 25 when we still hadn't hit the last big downhill.  Turns out the course had been re-routed slightly from last year, which helped explain my faulty memory when trying to give Luke directions. I wasn't wrong...the route was.  Well, not wrong, but not the same as before. That's totally why I tried to turn us down someone's driveway.

We finished our loop and rolled back into the parking lot, where the vast majority of people had made the same one-loop decision we had, leaving us fun people to hang out with. Cookies were eaten, drinks were drunk, and it was a lovely end to a fantastic day.  Had I been inclined to regret stopping early, the good company combined with the looks on the faces of the two-lap folks reassured me that I'd made the right call.

It was a great weekend.  Chances are good that it'll be a great weekend next year, too, so if you're in the area you should definitely join us.  And if you're not in the area...you should still think about joining us.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Here we go again...

Last year at Dirty Kanza, when it was virtually certain that I was actually going to finish the race that had eluded me the previous two years, I pedaled through the campus of Emporia State University filled with the overriding peace of one simple thought: I never have to do this again.
 
Looking uber-hot in my clear glasses, but all that matters in this picture is the huge smile and the finisher's glass in my hand. #dk200 #gravel #goalachieved
Joy. 
 So why, exactly, was I on BikeReg.com at 8 a.m. Saturday morning?

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Ahem...
 I never have to do this again.  I meant it, too.

But it turns out I want to. I loved all the gravel training I did last year; the thought of a winter without DK hanging over my head was bleak. My rides are measured in comparison to the race: "Hey, we rode 75 miles...we're only halfway to the second checkpoint."

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Tall-grass prairie
I love the scenery, which is something that's hard to explain unless you've been there.  You spend the majority of the race in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by open range, miles from the nearest house.  You're very on your own, in a way that's both intimidating and very cool. I love the ridiculousness of a race so long that, when you tell people the distance, they ask, "In how many days?"

I've met some awesome people because of and at Dirty Kanza.  Even though I'm still in touch with most of them it's not the same as being there and being part of it again.

I've known for a while that I wanted to go back, but there were things to resolve.  The first worked itself out when our vacation, originally planned to start that weekend, was rescheduled due to my nephew's baseball practice.  The bigger issue, though, was that this wasn't going to be a big Team Virtus event as in years past.

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2012
I got roped into this race because of the guys, and a big part of the fun is experiencing the weekend with my teammates.  In addition, they supply the support crew (their awesome wives and girlfriends) and figure out the details like travel and hotel reservations.  Luckily, my friend Emma said she could crew for me, and despite my aversion to responsibility I managed to get myself a hotel room before they all sold out.  Happily, Travis decided to give Kanza another go, so I won't be the only Virtusan in Emporia come May, and I'll have plenty of other teammates as well.

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I am TV4L (Team Virtus for Life), but our geographic spread and mismatched schedules often make training together difficult, and I do a lot of races in the area without my teammates.  I'm a pretty friendly person, so that was never much of an issue until this summer at the Indian Camp Creek MTB race, when I showed up and realized that in the absence of Chuck and Lori I had no home base.

I stood there like a little lost lamb until my friend Jim/Dave told me I could put my stuff at the Momentum tent.  Even though I'd only met a few of the people there before, and I had a colossally terrible race that day, everyone was welcoming and friendly, and Laura and Mary both encouraged me to join the team.  So that was June, and it only took me 6 months to make a decision.  I'm still Team Virtus, but now I'm on Momentum, too: dual citizenship!

It's a little intimidating as a mediocre athlete to join a team, but the only major thing to change will be my jersey at bike races.  Since Mickey is one of my regular training partners and I've been on rides with a few of the other guys, there's not the same level of worry about how I'll fit it; I'm nowhere near as fast, but it's worked out fine.  And while I may be lacking in speed, I'm a darn good teammate.

I knew Mickey had his eye on a return to Dirty Kanza (and a potential repeat of his Racing the Sun victory), but it turns out Momentum is going to field a pretty strong crew at the DK start line. I believe there are 12 of us heading to Kansas in May, and only a couple have been there before. I guess that makes me the wily veteran or something. Weird.

So if you've been around this blog for a while, you know what to expect. Lots and lots of posts about bike rides, but you can look forward to a few new characters to supplement the main cast. And hey, maybe one of these days I'll finish my 2014 in review post and start something on 2015 goals before the year's half over!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Back on the ShITR (Shivering Icy Trail Run)

Saturday was the 3rd ("Turd") annual ShITR, a nighttime trail half marathon hosted by my friends at ROCK Racing.  Its January date has so far supplied the conditions necessary for the Shivering Icy Trail Run to live up to its name: the initial race was held in freezing rain and sleet, while the second year the race featured patches of ankle-deep slush left by the semi-melted snow.  This year was no exception, lacking precipitation but including freezing temperatures and multiple icy patches.

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Photo credit: IronGirl Photos
I'd spent the week before the race feeling ambivalence, if not outright dread. I had no desire to run a half marathon, but I felt like I had to do the race because it's typically the kind of thing I love to do. Because I always do the ShITR.  And then I realized how stupid I was being.  I don't have any sponsors with expectations to uphold; I wouldn't even be out any money since it was a free race.  I messaged Chuck and told him I probably wasn't running the whole thing and he suggested I ride sweep with him and Bob.  Mountain bikes, whiskey, and a chill pace with two of my favorite people? Yeah, that sounded pretty good.

But then Patrick and I did a trail run on Wednesday night. Since he's just coming back from a knee injury, it was a pretty chill run that included a lot of walking. And you know what? Between the company and the relaxed pace, it was pretty fun. Maybe I wasn't in half marathon shape, but I could potentially just short course myself.  I had plenty of options.

In the end, between being nervous about riding the icy trails in the dark and the fact that my friend Aaron planned to run the race at an easy pace, I decided to just do the run, cutting out early on the gravel if I felt like I needed to.  

The race start is at 5:00 at the Mound, typically about an hour drive for me, so the fact that I ended up leaving my house at 4 made for a pretty stressful commute. Luckily I was parked with about 8 minutes to spare. I got to start on time, but I missed out on a lot of the pre-race socialization that I love.

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Look at this group of nuts!
Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
We started with a run up the Mound to the highest point in St. Charles County...

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Photo credit: IronGirl Photos
It was only chilly at the start, but it was downright cold with the winds at the top.

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Coming back down. A good picture of my friend Cheri in the forefront with the least unattractive picture I could find of myself over on the side and Aaron (in red) looking a little like a serial killer.
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So fast that I'm a blur!
Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
In contrast to the Little Woods race, where pretty much every mile felt terrible, our first four miles ticked off without me thinking much about them. I haven't seen Aaron for a while, so we had plenty of catching up to do and lots of good conversation interspersed with comfortable silence.

There were plenty of friends out on the trail as well, so we had lots of people to talk to, and since I've spent a lot of time on the Lost Valley trails, I was able to reassure Cheri, Doug, and Donna on a prolonged stretch of gravel that we hadn't missed our turn.  Even with my familiarity, though, I started to feel a little less sure of myself as the gravel section went on...and on...and we weren't seeing any other headlamps.  That section takes a lot longer on foot than on bike!

We later ran into my friend Matt, who was running the race with some other tri club friends. I love seeing people I know on the trail, though between my paranoid focus on the trail in front of me and my crappy night vision sometimes it's hard to tell who's who.

The temperature hovered around 30, though it felt much colder along the creek bottom, and it was a perfect night for running. I pretty much nailed the clothing for the weather, so I was always comfortable.  About halfway in I started paying a little more attention to the distance, beginning to count down until we were finished. I still felt good, but my legs were getting a little heavy; even on some of the slight uphills I started feeling like I was on a treadmill: all of my effort seemed to get me little progress.  I guess I'd stopped picking up my feet as much, too, because I tripped and caught myself several times.

And then 10 miles in I tripped on an embedded rock, and instead of catching myself I let the other rocks do the job.  Most of my running falls (which are less frequent than people seem to think) tend to see me landing on fairly smooth surfaces, so I guess I was due for a rougher landing.

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. And sometimes you go flying through the air and land in the last rocky section before the doubletrack. Still a great night at the ShITR. #grassrootsracing #trailrunning #lostvalley #rockracing #ru
Battle wounds!
With just three miles to go I took an extended walking break to catch my breath and not cry.  The temperature had definitely started to fall, so I was glad to have a wind jacket along, but my cold, sore hands couldn't untie the knot around my waist.  Finally I gave up, shimmied out of it, and handed it to Aaron to untie.

I'd fallen at basically the last bad place to fall in the whole race, very close to the end of the singletrack. Once we hit the gravel doubletrack we started running again. Despite the fact that I'm out of running shape and this was Aaron's longest trail run to date, we were actually maintaining a pretty respectable pace. That was a nice feeling 10-11 miles in.

The Lost Valley and Hamburg gravel usually seems to last for-ev-er, but this time it wasn't bad at all. My hands really hurt, of course, but my legs felt pretty good and my mawmaw hip, which has been complainy lately, was perfectly happy.  We took a couple of short walk breaks in the last 2 miles but finished strong, changed clothes, and met up with the rest of the race at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Great night, great people, great end.  Big thanks to Aaron for running with me, to ROCK Racing and all of the volunteers, and to El Azteca for accommodating our noisy group.

Photo credit: Denzil Jennings
I wouldn't say my mojo is back, but last night's happy race definitely encouraged me to keep running without expectations of myself until I want to do more.  SlackerKate...it has a ring to it! :)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

On motivation

On one hand I don't really want to write about this because it feels like whining and complaining and is all the me I don't really want to be. But it's the me I am right now, and if nothing else I can look back in a few months or in a year or whenever my next slump hits and remember, Oh, that's right, I've felt this way before, and it ends.

As I mentioned in my last post (nearly a month ago!), motivation has been a struggle for me lately. It's been different from the summer lull I usually experience. After dedicated training for Dirty Kanza and with most of my partners in adventure working full-time jobs while I'm off fo, my lack of self-discipline manifests in lots of oversleeping and computer time, and very little training.

My past few winters have been full of training and fun.  12 inches of snow? Let's go (try to) ride bikes! 6 degrees? Let's go practice orienteering! I'm not a morning person until I'm on the way somewhere fun, and then I'm so happy to be up when I'd otherwise be buried under the covers. I'm the very embodiment of that fitspo we've all seen a thousand times.


That is, I was. Now, not so much. I'm at a weird place where the motivation is lacking but the commitment is there.  I'm going, I'm training, I'm doing things that I love to do, and as often as not in the past month or two, I'm not really enjoying it.

I thought Pere Marquette was a turning point, and it was the beginning of a great weekend.  I met up with friends the next day at Castlewood Park and spent several hours and 20 miles mountain biking and exploring.

20 miles of singletrack and good times with a great bunch of friends. This weekend was just what I needed. #mtb #cyclingstateofmind #cycling #mountainbiking #castlewood #teamvirtus

I had a blast and felt great on the bike, a far cry from a post-PMETR mountain bike ride I did a few years ago. If you look at the whole ride time, our miles per hour were pretty anemic, but maybe that's what made it fun. I wasn't so much "training" as playing in the woods with my friends.

The next weekend featured a Saturday orienteering meet at Queeny Park, where I pretty much put on a clinic on how to not clear a course but had a good time wandering around aimlessly.

It was beginner-time today at SLOC's O meet, but im@now prepared to put on a clinic in How to Not Clear a Course. Topics will include: losing your clue sheet, the fine art of wandering in the correct general direction, east and west are tricky, and taking

I know I have this self-deprecating thing down to near art-form (that wasn't very self-deprecating, though, was it?), but I was seriously bad.  How bad? The redline (distance if you go point-to-point) route was about 5 miles for the two-loop course; I did just over half of the first loop and not quite a quarter of the second and had almost 6 miles on my Garmin.  That may set some kind of record in navigational inefficiency.

The next day I joined friends for mountain biking and had another fun 13 miles.

Singletrack Sunday! #cyclingstateofmind #mtb

That same week I made it back to the gym for the first time in more than two weeks (attitude: let's just get through this) and went for a short run with my dog.

My body said "It's cold and starting to rain. This is stupid." My dog said, "Run? Yes!! Let's go!!" And my brain said, "you have new running clothes. And you ate a chocolate and caramel bar for breakfast." Touché, brain. #runaddiction #scexperts #running
He was happier about it than I was, but it wasn't terrible.
All of this had me feeling more or less positive about things being back on track, just in time for my last race of the year, the Little Woods progressive ultra. Last year, this free race was a blast.  This year...the only thing that got me out of bed was FOMO and the unwillingness to miss out on a FREE race that was practically in my back yard.

The format was the same as last year: racers had an hour to run a 4.1 mile trail loop. The next loop started at the top of the next hour, and the race continued until the last man (or woman) was standing. We'd gotten some recent rain, so trail conditions were questionable and in retrospect the race should have been to run on an alternate course. Instead, it was run as planned, the trails were damaged, and I feel lousy about my part in that.  Luckily, GORC has two SIUE trail workdays coming up, which will at least give me a chance to help in the repair work or building new trail, whichever the goal for the day is. I participate in as many of those as I can, but these will have additional meaning for me.

The race started on time and began with most of the pack immediately missing the first turn. I ran with the group past the cone marking the entrance to the trails, thinking to myself, This seems further than last year...oh well..., only to have to turn around with everyone else who'd gone too far.

My plan was to run a nice, steady, easy pace that I could keep going for a long time. That's exactly what I did, but it wasn't easy; the first four miles seemed like a really long way. Though I'm sure the trail conditions played into that, the bigger issue was heart. As we started the second lap, I mentioned, "I bet I could almost walk the whole thing and get back in time" and started wondering if 8 miles was enough running to call it a day. Halfway through the third lap, my knees and hips were sore and I knew I was on my final lap.
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I'm smiling here, but it was probably faked for the camera.
Photo credit: IronGirl Photos

I did have fun, but the part I enjoyed was talking to friends before and afterwards rather than in running and competing, and the day left me pondering the same types of questions that have been bouncing around in my head since November.

Is it getting too easy for me to quit? This whole SuperKate title is totally tongue-in-cheek, but if there's anything super about me it's been my willingness to try outsized things, keep going when it's hard, and find joy in the attempt rather than only satisfaction in a particular result. If I lose that, then who am I?

Is it what Mickey says, that I let a bad day (or two) get into my head? There's some truth to that. Things were fine until a bad race at Skippo, and maybe that put me into Chicken Little mode, crying that the sky is falling when it was really just a walnut that hit my head.

It could be that after my race-heavy November what my body really needed was to sit on a couch for a week or two, but the memory of how hard it is to get fitness back kept me afraid of that.  For the past two months I've been trying to go out and still do things and hang in there until I come out the other side and things are fun again.

But at the same time, it's so much more fun to succeed than to fail, to reap the rewards of hard work. So if my focus is fun, am I sabotaging that? It makes me think back to a quote I read several years ago in the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother:


... nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.  ...things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where [people] tend to give up.  But if done properly, the...strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice practice is crucial for excellence...  Once [people start] to excel at something--whether it's math, piano, pitching, or ballet--[they get]...satisfaction.
What it comes down to, though, is that I can't sustain something I don't enjoy. And things don't necessarily need to be easy to be fun. We did a lot of really hard training rides last year in prep for Dirty Kanza, and I never felt burned out. I did occasionally feel like killing Mickey if he led me up another hill, but those times were rare.  So what made the hard work fun, and what is making things not fun now?

Maybe it's that when you train with stronger, faster people, the most visible measure of your progress -- how long they're standing around waiting on you to catch up -- isn't visible to you and so the sensation is one of no improvement.

Maybe it's that I've reached the point where I've gotten all the returns on my half-ass training that I'm going to get, and if I want to see improvement I'm going to have to up my dedication.

Source

For now, though, it's winter; I don't have any big races on the schedule for the next few months, and I'm going to take the pressure off.  The Monday after Christmas I went out for a gravel ride with Mickey. I'd committed to two hours and was enjoying myself but also watching the clock, and when he asked me 1:35 in how much longer I wanted to ride, I said, "25 minutes."  He (semi) jokingly called me a wuss, and I explained that as long as this burned-out feeling persists I'm going to do things for fun, and I wanted to quit while I was still having fun.

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Gravel biking in freezing temperatures still fits my definition of fun, at least on Monday.
I planned that same "cut out early if necessary" strategy for Thursday's New Year's Day ride with some of the Momentum guys.  Being the slowest one in a new-ish group of people (two I've ridden with, two I hadn't) is kind of intimidating, and I haven't ridden as far as the 50ish miles planned since October (I think). I was excited about the route, though, because it included parts of the hilly ride Mickey and I did last year that my Garmin dropped.  I wanted credit for those climbs, even if it was a year late.

Shaun, Mickey, Joe, Chris, and I met at the Mound and started with a loop of the Lost Valley gravel where, despite my not feeling at all speedy, Strava assures me I had several PRs. (Incidentally, if you ride with people way faster than you, Strava can be a nice way to judge your progress against yourself.)  From there, we took the Katy to Defiance and rode towards Callaway Fork Rd., a lovely out and back that meanders along a creek.

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Between algae and ice, this was a seriously sketchy low-water crossing.
Nestled in a valley, the road protected us from any chilly winds and made for a very comfortable ride.  I was keeping up OK on the flats until stopping to take a picture of this cool frozen creek, and then I fell behind.

Iced-over creek under the low-water crossing. #gravel #dk200training #cyclingstateofmind #hellowinter

 I'd remembered the road as having a difficult climb, but it only got steep towards the very end, and even that part wasn't so bad. The guys were cruising downhill as I was still going up. On a nice day, it's not such a big deal to wait at regrouping spots, but it's worse on cold days where you really need to keep moving to stay comfortable, and I felt a little bad that the guys had to wait on me and a lot appreciative that no one seemed to mind.

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Finished with Callaway Fork Rd.  Chris, who'd hurt his back the previous day, opted to head back early.
I had considered going back after Callaway Fork Rd, but I still felt good and was looking forward to Femme Osage Ridge Rd, the next big climb on the route. Turning back onto the highway, we found that the wind had picked up. The lovely headwind made for "fun" riding, and I once again dropped back from the guys.  Mickey circled back, giving me the option of drafting or being towed. Since we were on roads and I have a hard time making myself ride close enough to benefit from drafting, I opted for the tow.  On one hand that makes me feel lame, but I'm hopeful that it'll also help me get more comfortable with riding in close proximity to other bikes.

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Climbing Femme Osage RidgeRd.
If Callaway Fork Rd. was easier than I'd remembered, Femme Osage Ridge Rd was the opposite.  I didn't make it far on the steepest part before I had to do some walking, but once the incline eased up a little I rode the rest of the way to where the guys had stopped.  "If I remember right," I told them, "now we've got a great paved downhill coming up."

My memory was correct, if by "now" I actually meant "after four more miles of rolling hills". I may have done progressively more cursing with each subsequent climb, but the eventual downhill (where I hit my new speed PR of 43.8 mph) was a glorious reward.

I jumped on the tow one more time on this stretch, on a short, steep climb that tested the amount of stretch in the tow tubing and had Mickey asking the guys at the top, "Is she even pedaling??" Even with the pedaling I was (truly) doing, the amount of stretch made me nervous enough that I slipped the tow strap off my bike, making the very entertaining discovery that if it's stretched far enough, when I let go it'll give Mickey a pretty good snap when it hits him.

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On the way back down to the Katy Trail, where I was expressing my displeasure about being in Augusta rather than 9 miles closer in Defiance.
We headed back to the Katy, and I for one was not thrilled to see the sign for Augusta.  I'd been thinking we were in Defiance, which is considerably closer to where we were parked. My unhappiness was briefly forgotten in the fun downhill to the Katy, much of which I spent happily bunny hopping over the cracks in the road, an activity I heartily regretted once we got back to the flat Katy and my legs decided they were finished for the day.

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Homeward bound
My quads started cramping up again, giving me visions of the ride back from Hermann and the December gravel ride that ended in an early pick-up.  Jumping back on tow for a few miles helped a ton, but once I dropped off and we hit the Hamburg Trail it was pretty miserable again. I wanted to walk, but I also wanted to be finished. I started counting, deciding that I could walk for a while once I got to 1,000.

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Almost to somewhere around 800 or so...
 (Un)fortunately, by the time I got to 1,000 I was also at the top of the hill with just a mile or so to go and it didn't make any sense to walk at that point, so I picked up the pace a bit and cruised happily into the parking lot. 49.1 miles done, and a great start to the new year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Race

After a noisy November on the blog, it's been quiet here this month. I've stayed active on the weekends, but I've been struggling with motivation and not finding the usual joy in things that I normally love doing (riding my bike, running in the woods, even lifting weights). Maybe it's a touch of seasonal or post-race depression, or those in combination with overdoing it in November (but what a great month!!).

Whatever the case, my running mileage since Skippo has been anemic...a grand total of 15 miles since November 9. I did get out for a couple of gravel rides and lifted weights twice a week, but my Pere Marquette race prep was pretty non-existent.  And you know what? Turns out that's the way I like it. Mentally I'm just better off going into a race unprepared and hoping not to die.

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Photo credit: IronGirl Photos
Race morning is always fun, driving up the River Road and then hanging out at the beautiful park lodge, visiting with friends and meeting new people.  I think four separate people mentioned reading my blog, which was really cool. Also cool? When my friend Mary was super excited to show me what she's learned from me.

Proper nutrition storage. 
Bob was doing his very first Pere Marquette race ever, and I got so distracted talking with Chuck and him that I nearly missed my wave start (which is something of a tradition for me).  I had to rush over to the start line, throwing my sweatshirt to the side as I jogged, and we lined up under the watchful eye of a bald eagle. They're prevalent along our part of the Mississippi during winter months, but I don't see them very often. The start line eagle was actually the second I'd seen that day. Very cool.

Somehow I was in wave 11, which is by far the earliest wave ever and one in which I was quite sure I didn't belong. I think it was based on my comparatively strong performance in last year's 8" of snow, when my screw shoes gave me excellent footing, a benefit that would not be repeated with this year's start temp in the high 40's.

I wished Bob good luck and resigned myself to being passed a lot.  The race starts with a deceptively flat first quarter mile before beginning the first of the four big hills.  I felt surprisingly good at the beginning, and while I was passed regularly it wasn't the constant onslaught I'd anticipated.

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Early in hill number 1
A week of dry weather hadn't been enough to completely dry the trails after last week's regular downpours, but the first mile (which was also the last mile of the lollipop course) was the only truly muddy section.  Later in the race I overheard a girl talking about how bad the mud was and smiled to myself, thinking that it was nothing compared to the ankle deep mud I slogged through in my first PMETR.

Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run
Pictures I took in 2010, when the 7.8 miles took me 2:20.

I felt surprisingly good, only having to walk the steep, muddy section approaching and after the squeeze (a narrow path between two boulders).  I felt really good when I glanced down at my Garmin near the end of my first mile and saw a pace in the high 9 minute/mile range.  Only at the end of mile 2 did I realize I'd been looking at the time rather than pace, which gave me a good laugh.

Normally when I think of Pere Marquette I remember the big uphills while forgetting everything else, but as I neared the first downhill section my left shoulder started hurting and I got a bad cramp on my right side.  This stuck around for the next few miles, slowing me down and making the downhills more painful than uphills.  I can tell that I'm getting old, because in the same way that in my 20's and 30's any nausea-type symptoms struck pregnancy fears, now anything torso-related makes me think heart attack, and I spent miles 2-4 pondering female heart attack symptoms and the nature of hypochondria.

Despite the lingering side cramp, I was having a good race. If downhills were a weak spot for me on this day, I did well for me on the uphills. More that that, I just felt at peace, enjoying the run and being in one of my favorite places, spending very little time glancing down at my watch and just moving forward.

The aid stations were filled with friends and familiar faces. At the first one, Matt saw me and called out, "She'd rather be riding her bike!"  So true.  Curiously at a race filled with people I knew, I only ran with one friend on the course and not until around mile 3.  "This isn't a hill," said a familiar voice, "so no walking!"  It was Chuck, who'd started 3 minutes behind me.  We've trained enough together this fall that I knew he'd be passing me.  It was good to have company for a while, and I kept him in sight until near mile 6 when he pulled far enough ahead that I couldn't see him anymore.

It was around mile 6 that I looked at my watch and realized that a PR was within reach. I had 20 minutes to run the last 7.8 miles (edit: duh...it was the last 1.8 miles). Now, even in my world two consecutive sub-10 miles isn't crazy fast...unless it looks like this:

Must. work.on.hill running
There was much walking on that uphill section. More accurately, I could say there was little running on that uphill section. I started running again once I hit the first peak, passing a guy on that next short uphill and telling him, "After this hill, there's nothing left but gravity until the end!"

Gravity's assistance was awesome. The muddy sections were less so, and my timid trip through the squishy ground before and after the squeeze did nothing to advance my PR hopes.  My friend Karen, who had also started behind me, passed me with some authority before that last downhill, and maybe it's one of my problems in races that it didn't really bother me; she's trained way more consistently than me this year and earned a better finish.

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Getting close to the flat section again; just before this picture was taken I almost face planted.
Photo credit: IronGirl Photos
I was more tentative than I probably should have been on the last downhill section and then picked it up for that last flat quarter mile or so. The nice thing about having fast friends is that so many of them were there to cheer for me when I came into the finish.
Finishing PMETR today with a smile. Nice change from the end to Skippo. #trailrunning  #teamgodzilla #peremarquette #pmetr@trailmonster with @repostapp.・・・SuperKate!
Photo credit: Jim Davis
A look at the clock and some quick math told me that I'd missed my PR by a minute. The smile on my face shows how non-crushed I was. I finished feeling good, faster than I deserved, and having enjoyed my run. That last item has been lacking over the past month and matters more to me than any PR. Having fun again is enough of a win for me.