All my life, I’ve been naturally strong. People hand me the pickle jar to open. I’ll carry heavy things like air conditioners up 3 flights of stairs. Friends call me when they move. I’m no gym rat, I literally have not stepped foot in a gym in at least 20 years. I do NOTHING for this, but my back, shoulders, and arms have always been very strong and pretty cut for never doing anything other then working hard on my house and doing household chores. So much so, I’ve been a bit self conscious of my upper body. While I really like the natural strength I have, I don’t feel especially feminine. It’s always been a bit of an internal conundrum.
This is not the body of a cyclist, which is the sport I most greatly identify with. Not only do I have a broad back, but I’m a bit busty. I stuff myself into cycling jerseys. And I hate the club cut, so I stuff away. While I have used my natural upper body strength to my advantage handling the bike in sketchy conditions, it hasn’t escaped my notice that other women just look sleeker doing it. I just accept this. I like being strong but will never be built as compactly as most of the women I ride with. My body is largely a result of my genes, and both my parents, especially my father, was extremely strong and muscular.
Then at some point this past fall, I was changing in the bathroom and noticed something was different. My biceps had shrunk. My triceps also looked diminished. My shoulders still looked strong but a touch smaller. At first I was happy–finally I was looking a bit more feminine and less like I could join the practice team for the Pats! But then I realized what was happening.
I’m getting older.
This was a cruel twist of biology and time at work. I was losing muscle mass as a result of my age, which at the time of this writing is 47. This was sarcopenia. I’m very physically active, but mostly on the bike. I’m almost to that magical age of menopause, and a probable factor is some hormone fluctuation.
I can’t fight biology or time, but I can put some work in against the loss of more muscle. I have decided to be earnest in incorporating weights into my weekly workouts. I need to preserve what I still have, and maybe carve myself some new guns. It turns out, I value strength over whatever hangups I had about my muscles.
Last week we received about 20 inches of snow and ice in a series of different storms, the biggest coming Thursday which dumped 15 inches. My son was home from school 2 days and another 2 days were a delayed start, which was seriously disruptive to my work week. Work itself is intense right now, I have multiple projects and deadlines, and several high priority initiatives we are rolling out, on top of the day to day stuff which is busy enough. All this, and I am trying to continue to work out regularly and vary my fitness routine this off season.
Snow isn’t a dealkiller when it comes to working out. As a younger and less experienced cyclist, I considered winter as a break, which meant zero time on my bike. As my love of the sport grew, I began to question this forgone conclusion, especially when I realized other people were out there in the cold getting it done.
I used to be much more sensitive to the elements, in what I can only guess was my lack of exposure to them. Since making my fitness year round, and not just a token adventure in the winter months, I’ve grown much more tolerant to temperatures.
So last week I took what I could get. A couple of short rides on the fat bike in the beginning of the week, a Zwift trainer ride on Friday, followed by a short run in the dark over snow and ice. The most action was this weekend, full of shoveling snow, riding the fat bike, and downhill skiing with my son.
These a little short little nibbles at workouts and not as “full on” as I’d like, but I’m managing time as best I can and considering everything–I’m pretty happy with last week.
I’m now watching another 8-12 inches fall outside. I don’t really mind, bring on the snow! I’ll work in a work out somehow….
Sometimes you have to wring yourself out to get somewhere.
I signed up for 2 races last Saturday, the Cat 4 and then the Open Category just 45 minutes later. After too little sleep, too little riding, too much travel, too much work, too much stress, and too much alcohol & food at client dinners (and breakfasts and lunches and coffee breaks)….. I needed the ass-kicking to get me back on track.
The Cat 4 Race
Staging was odd–I was in the second row but figured I’d be in the 3rd. My start was great and I was in the lead group through the squiggly, hilly turns after the first corner. Then the straightaway, and pick, pick, pick….they came. I slid back to the middle. The back fields were a maze of corners. Around one corner I cut too close to one of the stakes and my foot slammed square into the post and nearly knocked me off the bike. Pick, pick, a couple more slid by me. Then on a modest descent before a sharper right turn, a young woman blasted by me to the cheers of her friends. She passed, then lost control and wiped out in grand fashion right in front of me. I managed to avoid her crash but was forced to dismount for the sharp right turn and hill (which was totally rideable in any other circumstance). I pushed on the the front of the course and the heckle-hill. They changed the hill a bit this year; the apex was characterized by a severe left turn on a sloping hill that slowed dismounts and caused some to topple down the hill.
About 3/4 into the first lap, I started coughing and my lungs started filling. My speed slowed to a non-race pace. I’ve had this problem before when the temps get cold: sports induced asthma. It was in the high 40’s but felt colder somehow. I struggled through the rest of the race, trading places with one other racer a few times but in the end she won the battle and I lost yet another place. No Crossresults posting yet but at the venue I came in 15th/22? I think 22. Not so great and I am definitely capable of more.
At the end of the race, I was literally wheezing. I found my friend Kathy who was getting ready for the Women’s Open and told her exactly how I was feeling at that moment: I don’t want to race again. I went back to my car to warm up and lick my wounds. I called my girlfriend and told her how I was feeling. “You sound miserable. If you feel that awful then just come home and skip it.” Inside my brain, hearing her say this aloud was like a needle scratching across a record. I was miserable, but I was there, and quitting would feel worse than coughing up whatever was left of my lungs.
Women’s Open 1/2/3/4
So I lined up for the second race, the harder and longer race with the fast women. Again, they staged us in an odd manner….someone realized it must be alphabetical, which was really bizarre. I found myself in the front row, which I had no earthly business being. We started fine and on the straightaway I moved over on purpose. I did not want to be in anyone’s way. I didn’t want to interfere with anyone’s race. It didn’t take long for the field to pass me and my wheezing lungs and leave me by myself.
This was just fine. I concentrated on form and smooth execution, and tried to push where I could, but the previous effort left me with very little. My lungs seemed to settle down but my energy was zonked.
On heckle hill, there were issues. Most heckles are in good fun. I joked with the spectators at the top and let them know I wasn’t taking myself too seriously. At least one heckler’s comments were what can only be described as condescending and pandering. I heard similar complaints from the other women post race, so I was not alone in this perception.
I got lapped and finished last–unless someone DNF’d (which happened last year). I felt 100% destroyed and 100% better than after my first race. If the first race tore me apart, the second pounded me into dust,which was exactly what I needed.
I’m hoping for a halfway decent showing next weekend in Northampton. It’s always difficult to keep momentum during cross season–it’s a big frustration for me to not be able to do my best because “real life” demands don’t allow me to race or train or even get enough sleep to be healthy. Hopefully Paradise CX’s pain will have some value next weekend.
Goals are funny. We want to achieve them but we like our routines. We like our habits, even the bad ones.
I set a goal of 3000 miles. I’ve wanted to do this kind of mileage before but never (I don’t think) put it in writing. 60 miles a week doesn’t seem insurmountable. But I’ve never been able to pull that kind of mileage off. Here are my most recent stats:
Distance 2,114 miles
Elevation Gain 92,450ft
Distance 2,345 miles
Elevation Gain 89,850ft
Distance 2,710 mi
Elevation Gain 118,000+++ft (should have written this one down!)
Elevation Gain 81,385ft
2013 was my best year for miles and climbing, and there is a great reason: I was laid off from my job for the first time in my entire life. Being out of work and being COMPLETELY stressed about it is a perfect recipe for high miles: high stress to pedal off and lots of free time to do it. Honestly I can thank cycling for getting me through that dark time. But things are on the upswing these days, so it would be great to log even higher miles and have them just be for fun, not exclusively for mental health.
Mid summer in 2015, I was feeling a loss of wind in my sails around training, about the approaching cyclocross season and how invested I could be or wanted to be in the race season. I got it together, mostly. But my miles dropped off hard as soon as daylight saving time came around, and with that, so did my overall fitness.
So why 3000 miles? It feels like a magic number to me. In 2013 when I was riding a ton, things started to shift for me in terms of my cycling performance. I got faster, I climbed better, I became a more capable cyclist. It felt so great. I moved off the plateau and onto higher ground, and it was nice, and surprising, to learn that was still possible in my forties.
So-3000 miles for 2016. Hopefully the mild winter will continue, my personal schedules fall into place, and I can get the saddle time I need to get there…..and hopefully I’ll move off that plateau and onto that higher ground I’m looking for.
Right! That never happens. I’ll spend this winter obsessing about what I should have done differently and not forgiving myself for not training harder, despite the reality of a highly demanding schedule.
What’s on my list this winter?
- Mountain biking
- Trail running
So far this winter has been record setting mild. No snow, a few cold days but nothing serious. I need to get back into running; I have some serious muscle imbalance going on, and I need to challenge some different muscle groups. Yoga would help. Now I need someone to make me do some yoga.
In 2016 I am signed up for a few obstacle course races starting in the spring and concluding in September. I’m hoping to squeeze a couple of mountain bike races in this summer too. Mountain biking is something I really love and during the summers I find myself not spending as much time as I would like in the woods.
Goals for 2016 will be forthcoming, but right now, no agendas, just fun. Happy holidays everyone!
At last, I’ve experienced the infamous Ice Weasels. Considered the end of the season party for the New England Cyclocross community, I have regrettably missed this party for the last 3 years. Now I see what all the fuss is about. This was a blast. A completely rad course, beer handups, White Russian handups, candy cane handups, silly costumes, a Star Wars theme, and a bike jump! What more could a girl ask for? Oh, the amazing #NECX community. So great. With ironically warm temperatures in the low 60’s, the Ice Weasels did not disappoint. Here are the highlights:
- the above photos collected from links from the crossresults.com site Thank you to the awesome #necx for sharing!
The race had some serious gnar. Crazy chutes and granite ladders, dual pump tracks through the woods, a deep sand section that hells yeah, I rode through nearly every time, and lots of on and off the bike action. I really loved this course–it was sick and twisted in all the best ways and the cheering from spectators was a frenzy of fun. I haven’t raced since Northampton last month and have had almost zero time on the bike. My fitness was marginal but none of this mattered: this race was all about the fun. But, you still are racing, you are still moving along at a good clip. So when I felt a pop in my left calf on my very first dismount, followed by searing pain, I knew things were not good.
At first I tested what I could do….riding the crazy downhills was so much fun, I loved it. I heard a couple loud crashes behind me as women lost it on the loose sand descent of some of the downhills. I played tug of war with a Cannondale rider. It was hard to assess what shape my calf was in while I was on the bike. I was in the moment.
Then I dismounted for the granite steps, and I felt more searing pain in the calf. I could pedal fine, but running off the bike, and worse, remounting, was agony. I limped through my runs off the bike. I slowed way down, babied it as much as possible, and at times, walked when I would have been running. I tried to push through it but to what end? This was the fun race, I reminded myself. When someone is sticking a solo cup in your face…..sometimes, sometimes you should just slow down and take it.
Next time, I will!
More photos for your enjoyment (these ones are mine):
Last year I wrote that the Spartan Sprint was no joke. That has never been more true. In fact, this year, it was even harder. And last year was pretty freaking hard.
I didn’t race this event, but experienced it with family. We took our time with each obstacle and I failed at some. I won’t beat myself about that. I was feeling pretty anxious about contaminating my wounds front he crash I had the day before at Forest Park. I knew there would be a ton of mud and being that it took place on a farm, there were bound to be lots of other biological goodies hanging out in said mud. I used the tegaderm on both my leg and elbow, and reinforced it with duct tape to keep out the gross stuff. And there was plenty of gross at Spartan Sprint.
Last year I only failed at 2 obstacles. This year there were many more. The obstacles were hard–more upper body challenges that I didn’t see any women conquering. I was constantly stressing about my leg and elbow, and half way through the 100 yard barbed wire crawl (yeah, 100 freaking yards), the duct tape failed on my elbow and I made the decision to abandon that obstacle. I just couldn’t willingly smash dirt and manure into an open weeping wound. I’m tough. I’m not stupid.
I felt bad about it, a little. I don’t like bagging out on challenges, so it bothered me, and it changed my attitude for most of the race. I wish I had been without these wounds so I could have approached the event with more zeal and less caution. But as I type this 5 days later, my elbow is still weeping and I’ve been fighting an infection for the better part of the week. I’m finally starting to feel like I might have turned a corner and it will start to close up and heal a bit, but it really still just hurts. The leg is healing nicely though–so that’s getting better anyway. I just need the elbow to catch up.
Even without succeeding at all the obstacles, the whole event is still wicked hard. I did my burpees and climbed walls and scaled cargo nets and jumped over fire and all. It’s not cycling, but it was fun, and I definitely used a bunch of muscles I’m not used to using, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Now….back to cycling!