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Finding your tribe

‘Tis the season to find a team either for your first time or your 22nd. Applications are opening and recruiting is in full force.

If this is your first time, it’s intimidating. There’s a ton of information, but no real concise way to use it practically. I remember when I decided to join a team, I didn’t know where to start. I went to Google, as most of us do when we don’t know where to start.

Usually, finding and joining a team isn’t as simple as signing up and now you ride for Team Zissou. There are a lot of aspects to consider:

1. Location

The Google search I conducted when I first started out led me to the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s website which listed teams in Colorado. I wanted to find a team near me so I could jump on my bike and ride to meeting spots. Having to drive to team nights, team practices, team-building, etc. could get old fast. Find your city or where you’re willing to drive/bike to meet the team.

2. Clinics

Some teams offer clinics to teach their riders more skills. For example, my team, pedal RACING, has clinics for Road, Mountain, and Cross. They’re all scheduled out so as not to overlap the other disciplines. I’m a Roadie and it was important to me to find a team that offered clinics that covered Time Trials, Race Tactics, Group Riding, Criteriums, and Hill Climbs. Sometimes clinic fees are included in your Membership dues, while other times you have to pay extra. It’s good to find out.

Pedal RACING does both: we have set clinics that are included in your membership fees, but sometimes throughout the season, there is an ask for additional clinics. The group will either ask one of our elite team members to teach us a skill or we’ll all pony up some cash to bring in a professional coach.

3. Cost

Once you’ve picked a team, another important aspect to consider is the cost to join the team as well as finding out where the fees go. Some teams are very expensive and others are super cheap. If you’re interested in a team that has a high membership fee, ask what the fees go toward. For example, my team costs $150 to join. The money goes towards the clinics at the beginning of the racing season, tents, paying team dues, and race support. After 3 races, a team member can request a reimbursement for their races and end up only paying around $30 for their membership fees. Another option is forwarding that reimbursement to dues the following year. Some teams don’t offer this, so ask.

4. Racing Requirements and then some

Every team has a racing requirement – some more strict than others. Most websites will list their racing requirements so give it a looksee. If they don’t have a list of the number (and type) of races you must compete in, just ask them. This may influence your decision depending on your experience. Most people new to racing are intimidated by the race requirement, which is why it’s important to feel comfortable with what team you choose to join.

pedal RACING has a three race minimum. It doesn’t matter in what disciple, but we require our racers to race three times within the year. With the low requirement, I felt comfortable joining pedal back in the day. I knew it was within my ability to race three times.

Teams may also have additional requirements. For instance, pedal RACING also requires our members to volunteer. We believe it’s important to give back to our cycling community – whether that is helping out at our annual Twilight Criterium race, maintaining bike trails, or building bikes for kids. Helping out where and when we can keeps cycling alive and even helps it grow, which, as cyclists, we most certainly want.

5. Do You Fit In?

Go on a ride with the team to see how you jive. The team may look great, but until you ride with them, you won’t know if it makes sense to join them. Some teams take racing much more seriously than other teams. If you’re serious about racing, then those teams more focused on race tactics, strategies, and training will be a better choice. Conversely, if you want to give racing a try because you like a little competition now and then, but you don’t plan on going pro, there are teams that focus on the fun and fitness aspect of racing. And of course, there are teams in between.

There are a lot of other elements to consider when joining a team such as the number of group rides, friendliness and competitiveness of the team, the look of the kit, guidance from other team members, support, and riders at your level.

I took all those factors and made a scale. I looked at the teams in my area and started whittling them down. I rated each team on a scale from 1 (worst) – 10 (best) for each factor I considered important in a team I joined. Then I added up the numbers and chose the team with the highest rank.

I’d love to chat with anyone interested in racing about my team or racing in general. If you have a question, shoot me an email: Women[at]pedalracing[dot]org

Race Anecdotes: Mt. Evans Hill Climb

The person who wins the race won because they were able to suffer the longest.

I suck at suffering.

It’s probably why I haven’t stepped on the top podium this season so far. Sure, I can handle racing, being uncomfortable, the pain, and aches, but I know when I’m really suffering, I ease off just enough to where I can stand it.

Racing 26 miles up a 14’er was no different.

The 3’s were grouped with the P-1-2’s (because that’s women’s bike racing) and I knew from the get-go the pace was going to hurt. I found myself in the front of the group, setting the pace, as it were. No one wanted to get out front. I figured at my pace, I could do this ride all day long, but I also knew that this pace wouldn’t last long and I was riding myself out for no reason.

I dropped the pace slow enough so that an antsy racer could take the lead. And then I was barely hanging on. There were surges after surges and every time I was able to spring back, my Suffer Meter raised a notch. We lost a few women and I didn’t dare look behind me. I didn’t want to see my future.

Finally, a Cat 2 surged with enough gusto that I lost the group. I tried to throw my weight on to the pedals. I tried pulling up, using any sort of hamstring strength there was, and the group was trailing away.

I thought I could keep them in sight with my current output but the distance slowly grew. And with seven miles, I could no longer see the group and I was completely alone.

Enter Mental Toughness.

You can’t solely rely on physical strength to carry you through the finish line, let alone catch you back up to the group. You need the mental stamina. And it’s even harder to train sometimes than hitting certain watts.

What did I do to earn third place?

I gave myself small goals.

When I was completely alone in the forest I focused on making it to the next mile. Thinking about having to Time Trial another 19 miles alone sounded awful. When I thought about it like that, my legs wanted to give up, and my brain was like, “nuh uh, girl.” I didn’t want to do it. At one point I considered quitting, taking the ol’ DNF. But my penny-pinching ass refused to pay $90 to quit 1/3 of the way through a race. So I continued on.

I focused on mile markers or made them as I went. “Get to the end of the road.” “Push it until you’ve made it 1 mile.” “To that tree.” “Get to that switchback.” I did it over and over again until I made it to the top.

I counted my pedal strokes.

When I couldn’t focus on the next mile marker, I counted to 3 by pedal strokes. 1…2…3…1…2…3 as I pushed down on the pedal. I’d match my breath with the pedal revolutions.

And when that didn’t work…

I sang songs to myself.

Any song I could think of I’d sing in my head. A lot of them were Sia songs, oddly enough. “I’m still breathing. I’m alliiiiiiiiiiiiive.” You get the point. Whatever popped into my head, I sung.

I stayed positive.

This was probably the hardest for me because I have an easy time tearing myself down, which we all do. We’re our biggest critics afterall. When I saw the rest of the women leave me in the dust, the negative thoughts started pouring in. I didn’t think I was good enough to be racing with these women. I know I called myself a poseur more than once. And for what? Because of a single race.

I realized in the grand scheme of things, this race won’t matter. The results won’t matter. What I’ll remember is the hard work I was putting into pedaling. The feeling of accomplishment. And the stories that’d last longer than the beer we were awarded.

I kept telling myself to keep trying hard. I wasn’t going to get stronger if I gave up. “You can do this.” Over and over.

And when I got to the top, I saw all my friends. We shared our stories of pain and fun. Took some photos and rode down the mountain. As I flew back down the mountain, I reflected on the spots where I was done, cooked, and wanted to give up. Flying by those spots, I already forgot what the pain felt like.

When I reached Idaho Springs, I surprisingly ended up in third. The entire time suffering up that 14’er, was for a step on the podium. The thoughts, “I’m not a climber,” quickly silenced as my team clapped for me.

——-

What are ways you motivate yourself when you want to give up?

Race Anecdotes: Boulder Stage Race

If you weren’t a climber there was an ice cube’s chance in hell you’d podium in the three races. Friday was an uphill time trial. Saturday was a time trial in Hygiene, which, flatter than the other two days, still had quite the hill to overcome. And Sunday, glorious Sunday, was a 36-mile road race, which pretty much felt like another hill climb, but longer, with more ugly-face efforts.

 

Friday: Eldora Uphill Time Trial

I wasn’t sure if it’d be more beneficial to bring my time trial bike or my road bike for this course. Half of the 7.5-mile course was relatively flat and I knew the TT bike, Zissou, would be beneficial for aerodynamics, but the other half of the course was a gnarly hill climb, which favored my road bike, Thunder. I opted for Thunder because I didn’t want to haul Zissou up the side of a mountain.

I honestly didn’t expect much from me or Thunder seeing as how I had yet to make the podium so far this season. I was up against some stiff competition in the likes of Anna and Andie, so I figured I was just paying for training and you know, the experience.

As I continued to warm-up on a side road, my bike didn’t want to shift to the little ring. I had a mini panic because that’s the bike’s job. Especially if I’m climbing up a steep ass hill.

I lined up with the other strong women, who you knew, had to be good at climbing because it takes a special kind of crazy to drive deep into the mountains on a work day to pedal uphill.

Ever since my bike fit with Pat last season, I’ve been conscious of holding my handlebars at the top instead of adamantly staying in the drops. I was so strict about following Pat’s orders that I completely spaced the aerodynamics of the drops at the beginning of this race.

More focused on pacing myself and watching my watts, I was quickly reminded by Alison Powers (nbd) who shouted at me from the side to “get in your drops!”

All I could do was laugh because duh.

My goal for the race was to keep Anna in sight. I knew it would be damn near impossible to catch her so I set lower expectations. Any time I couldn’t see her, I tried picking up the pace. At the same time, I kept an eye out for Andie who started after me. I’m surprised I didn’t get motion sickness from swiveling my head around so often.

The Hill wasn’t letting up and neither was Anna. She was quickly out of sight so I focused on my own efforts. My cadence was fast enough to churn butter. I didn’t see the other women behind me but I assumed I wouldn’t make Top Three.

There was no way, I thought. The other women are stronger than me. I haven’t been making the podium. Today’s not going to be any different.

The course winded around the hillside. People lined up along the edge with cowbells and music blaring. There were a couple of people taking pity on us, cheering just to cheer, but didn’t personally care how well we did. No one knew who I was or what pedal RACING was all about. I was just another cyclist who loved the pain of hills.

As I shifted gears, I came over the corner and saw the finish line. The announcer hanging out in a camping chair calmly saying over his mic, “here comes Jessica McWhirt” with pedal RACING. Then I heard Stephen yell out, “GO JESSICA.” I smiled as I pedaled over the white line taped across the road.

I had lost my voice I was breathing so hard. My legs quivered as I dismounted my bike to talk to Stephen and Anna. We watched and cheered for Andie, Jessica, and Sandy, I didn’t want to stay too long after the race and I was convinced I wasn’t making top three.

We knew Anna came in first, in which I called her out for thinking she’d do any less and I made some self-deprecating joke about my race performance. Then Stephen walked up to our group with the race results: “You came in second so now you can’t talk.”

I started cheering, “I’m number two! I’m number two!” like they do in that Ellen Page roller derby movie. Even when I came in second I was still self-deprecating.

I immediately texted Chris, my mom, and sister to tell them I finally placed in a race. I was pretty stoked.

I’m not sure if it’s easier to believe you’re going to win and be disappointed when you don’t or if it’s easier to set low expectations because then you’re pleasantly surprised with your results. I’ve always stuck with the latter. And I think that’s what has made racing so much harder than it needs to be. I focus entirely too much on results rather than this “journey” everyone tells us it’s all about.

I think it’s both. If I didn’t care about my results I wouldn’t train as hard as I do. I wouldn’t look at what I did wrong in a race and try to figure out how to do better the next time. But when I only focus on my placing and not the fact that I’m challenging my mind and body, overcoming fears and setbacks, and having the opportunity to race against badass women then it’s less fun and I get burnt out.

 

Saturday: Hygiene Time Trial

Today’s race line-up was reversed based on times. Jessica was first, followed by Andie, myself, and Anna. My goal was to not only try to pass Andie and Jessica, but to stay ahead of Anna.

Here’s what’s impressive: Jessica, Andie, and I all had TT bikes. Anna had her road bike and passed all of us.

You can have the fanciest bike but unless you have a powerful engine, your bike gadgets don’t mean shit.

Trying to stay at a steady pace while also trying to catch Andie, I was also focused on staying ahead of Anna. I was pedaling into the first hill and I could just feel her. I didn’t have to look behind me to know Anna was closing in. Then I heard shifting that wasn’t mine. Within the first mile, Anna caught me.

I yelled, “nooooo!” And then followed it with, “go get it!”

I was asked recently how are the other women whom I race against. “They’re awesome,” I said.

Sure, we are there to beat one another on the course, but off the course, we chat, we joke, and we congratulate each other. I’ve yet to have a bad experience with another female racer. I also don’t look for it though.

I go to the race with encouragement and humor. I want all of us to do well, to set PR’s, and accomplish goals. I don’t want to see anyone getting hurt or treated badly. I’m there to win but I’m also there to encourage the women next to me.

I watched Anna grow smaller and smaller ahead of me as Andie grew bigger. I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d pass her. This is where I lack strategy. Like when do I push it past her? How hard should I push? Am I pacing myself correctly?

We hit a flat section on the course so I turned up my watts. As I closed the gap between us, some random dude (who apparently doesn’t know basic cycling etiquette) cycles past me on my right without announcing himself. I’m lucky I didn’t cut over to the right fast otherwise I’m sure we would have crashed.

I waited for him to pass and then loudly announced my passing to Andie. I tried staying off the dude’s wheel as I hauled past her. I searched ahead for Jessica but couldn’t see her. I wasn’t sure what place I’d get, but I knew every second counted.

I took a slow right-hand turn and booked it to the finish line. Completely spent but energized by the race. Again, I didn’t think I’d place because I’m always quick to disregard my abilities. I rolled up to Anna at the registration area where other cyclists gathered to share their race efforts with each other.

I didn’t really want to know my placement, but at the same time, I was curious to find out where I placed since I passed Andie but never caught up to Jessica.

I was 9 seconds faster than Jessica. Anna blew me out of the water by two minutes. I hung around for the podium because I finally made it to the steps. We joked about flexing our quads as we stood atop the wooden boxes. After a very mediocre season thus far, it was a relief to finally have my name called.

 

Sunday: Lyons to Nederland Road Race

It’s classified as a road race, but let’s be honest, it’s a 36-mile hill climb.

Having two days of racing back-to-back then racing this bastard of a race, I knew would be a challenge. I tried getting extra sleep, dialing in my nutrition, and recovering properly, but if you’re not ready, then you’re just not ready.

I lined up with the women and made a couple of jokes out of nervousness. Knowing full well I was tired and that there were strong women next to me, my goal was to try to stay with the group.

It was a neutral start, which simply means we slowly follow a vehicle to a certain point and then we can go race-pace. I learned from my last road race at Superior Morgul that if I hold the front more often than not, I’m going to be tired at the finish.

I was at the front at the start of the race, I don’t know, hoping to set the pace, next to Anna, and realized I did not want to be at the front, especially next to Anna. I knew my pace was child’s play compared to hers, so I dropped back and held on to her wheel as long as I could.

We were maybe three miles in and just like most of the road races this season, the group maintained speed and I couldn’t. I saw Anna, cool as a cucumber pedal off, as a group of five other women sucked her wheel.

And there I was. Trying to focus on breathing and counting my pedal strokes when Julie, my teammate, came up alongside of me. I jumped on her wheel among the rest of the group. There was probably 8 of us or so. Julie and I pulled for a while.

And seriously, it was just a fucking grind. There is no better way to put it. The road continued at an incline. There was no recovery. Slowly, women dropped off the group. I told myself I couldn’t lose the group. It would have been unbearable to Time Trial that race with the headwind and never-ending hill.

A couple MW 40+ attacked trying to drop as many of us as they could. As I pushed and pulled up on the pedals, my hamstring seized up. I didn’t have experience dealing with major muscle cramps so I didn’t know what to do.

The group was pulling away, my right hamstring was cramping, I was letting off the pedals in hopes that the cramp would pass, and I realized there were still ten miles left before the finish.

I had to make a choice and it had to be fast: suffer for the next minute to catch the group and hope the pain would disappear or pull back, let the cramp dissipate, and time trial alone for ten grueling miles that I knew would feel so much worse.

I shifted gears, stood out of my saddle, and pedaled my ass off until I caught back up to the group. One Cat 3 woman was left behind in the headwind and never-ending hill. And as I caught up to the group, the sigh of relief was both for myself and the would-have-been-miserable Jessica I didn’t leave behind.  

The women attacked again. We countered. I was hanging on by a thread. I wanted to rest. I wanted them to ease up. Hell, I would have been thrilled if someone was like, “Let’s take it easy for the next mile.” It wasn’t happening. We hit a downhill and I found myself stuck behind a nervous Cat 3 descender, much like myself. We lost the group. I told her we could work together until the finish. I hadn’t preview the route because why would I do that? It would have only been just a little beneficial.

I’m being sarcastic.

Because I didn’t know what to expect the last mile or so of the course, I blew out my legs on the last big climb. There were cars parked at the top, people standing around, waiting for their family member or friend, and it looked like the BRAC trailer was there too. I took it up a notch (because I definitely didn’t have the energy to sprint) and saw her drop back. As I pedaled closer to what I thought was the finish, I soon realize I still have 300 km to go. If I didn’t have such big sunglasses, the crowd would have seen my panicky eyes looking for the finish.

Laura caught up to me. I was gassed and regretful that I spent my remaining energy on a false finish. We went back and forth the last 300 km. She’d get ahead, then I would. Neither of us seemed to know where the fuck the finish line was. I even said that out loud as we hauled up the rest of the way: “Jesus, where the fuck is the finish line?” There were more people up ahead. I saw the 100 km sign. I tried to muster by last bit of energy, but I was totally spent. Laura was ahead at the finish line and beat me by a few seconds. I ended up fifth, which wasn’t a surprise.

Anna had been finished for 12 minutes by the time I finished. It’s inspiring to see someone excel so quickly and humbly like Anna.

While I was bummed about my mediocre finish, I was excited to see my husband waiting for me at the end. When you give so much of yourself to a race, you also seem to lose a bit of yourself at the same time. When you’re expecting better results and they don’t come, it’s discouraging. When you see other competitors kicking ass, you wonder what you’re doing wrong. We’re told not to compare ourselves to others; to race our own race, but what is competition if not trying to be the best? You compete to win. How you define “winning” is up to every individual.

I struggle between the notion of competing against myself and against others. I race because I like the competitive aspect of it, even when I hate it. I also race because it makes me stronger and faster than before. And because I’m competitive, I can’t stand losing. It makes me feel like a failure; like a poseur. Like, if I’m not winning, how can I lead a team of women racers? If I’m not winning, what will my family be proud of me for? If I’m not winning, how can I be proud of myself? I see plenty PR’s on Strava, but seeing a PR on a segment is much different than seeing my name next to #1.

It’s important to find that balance between self-improvement and competition. And I think it comes down to self-compassion. We end up being our biggest bullies instead of our biggest fans. You can be competitive AND self-compassionate and I’m trying my best to learn and implement that.

PHP: voluntarily kicking your own ass before the sun comes up

For at least the past year, I was consistently told, demanded, and jokingly harangued to join the pedal RACING men on this unofficial-yet-has-an-official-name ride Tuesday and Friday mornings near Cherry Creek State Park. And for eleven months, I found excuses to avoid it: “Gotta work,” “maybe next time,” and my favorite: “one of these days, I’ll join you.”

I knew it was a sausage fest and the thought of hammering out the watts elbow-to-elbow with testosterone-pumping broski bros didn’t turn me on like it did my male counterparts.

I didn’t see the benefit of waking up at the asscrack of dawn, trying to find the elusive meeting spot, only to potentially make a fool out of myself or crash or hell, maybe both.

Then one of my female pedal RACING teammates swallowed her pride and dropped all apprehension and joined the dudes. After seeing her activity glittered with kudos and Strava bling, I had immediate FOMO. Kinda what social media does to us, right?

All the encouragement and positive comments convinced me that, sure, I can at least give it a try once to see what it’s all about. Not to mention the fact that this season as a Cat 3 has been exceptionally soul-crushing and challenging watching my competitors leave me in the dust as I suck [wind].

From all the mediocre finishes, I was desperately seeking another type of training that’d increase my speed, skills, and maybe confidence. The pedal RACING guys had been telling me the past year how PHP would make me faster and it wasn’t until I saw my female pedal teammate speak highly of this impervious ride-but-actually-it’s-a-race-for-us-newbies that I realized, “shit, if I try to ride [operative word being “try”] this with faster people, maybe I’ll get faster.” Sure, we all have to figure these things out on our own.

So I hardened the fuck up (Rule #5) and on May 22nd, I joined my first PHP ride. The meet-up was on the bridge at Cherry Creek and Holly. I didn’t see a single person when I drove past looking for a parking spot. Am I in the right spot? I frantically thought.

I parked alongside the road and scanned passing cyclists for any hint of a gathering. I applied my chamois cream, buckled my helmet, slid on my shades, and started my Garmin as I attempted to look like I knew what I was doing and where I was going.

I slowly rolled up to the bridge five minutes ‘til and there were two dudes hanging out. Seriously, five minutes before and no one is here? I’m totally at the wrong spot. I finally mustered up the courage to ask one of the guys if this was the meeting spot for PHP. He smiled, “yep.”

And like clockwork, 60 (that’s a rough estimate) cyclists appeared out of nowhere. Just in time to Hammer. I found my teammates who were both shocked and excited to see me finally own up to my word. Then the game plan was laid out for me: “this is just the warm-up before we get to the park.” “Watch out for the potholes. It’s the worst right here.” “You’ll get dropped up the first hill. It happens to everyone. Just wait at the top for the group to come back.” “Oh, the ‘S’ turn. You want to be toward the front because it’s like an accordion. If you’re on the back at the ‘S’ turn, you’ll get dropped. That’s what happened to me.”

Loads of tips were offered as I tried keeping pace during their “warm-up.” Of course I wouldn’t keep up at the first hill. It was race-pace for me. I could only speak a few words before another giant breath.

“The fuck did I get myself into,” I thought, as we made our way down Colorado Blvd.

We rolled into a parking lot just outside of Cherry Creek State Park to reconvene. I was told sometimes they broke into A and B groups. This time they didn’t. A couple of other teammates showed up and we started rolling out as a giant peloton-ish group.

As soon as wheels touched the perimeter of Cherry Creek, it was full gas. I picked a Jersey in front of me and held on. Luckily, drafting kept me on the pace line.

The group rides the Cherry Creek Time Trial course, which I’m quite familiar with, so I knew where the hills were and sections of the road to avoid. As the first Hill was coming up, I kicked it down a gear (high cadence, lower power) and tried to keep up with the quickening pace.

Men flew by me on my left, they flew by on my right, and the rest of us left on the hill, pushed and pulled on our pedals, trying in vain, to reach the top of the hill before the peloton was completely gone. Our heavy and rapid breathing became a choir of novices and determination.

I was dropped.

The peloton was nearly at the bottom of the hill by the time I recovered. My buddy, Zuzana, and I, collected ourselves, and followed the group down the road.

We watched the giant mob grow smaller and smaller and just like that, it was like the group of 50 men were never there.

Too proud to not do the full route, I zoomed around the lollipop loop with a couple of other stragglers. We formed a small group of three as we pedaled up the second Hill (which, on later rides, I would eventually be dropped) desperately seeking the peloton.

We didn’t even know what direction they went, so we guessed. We didn’t know which road to take to get back to our cars either. As we biked back to the entrance of Cherry Creek, we saw several dropped riders, like discarded litter on the side of the road. One man was headed back to the elusive meeting spot where he was also parked, so we jumped on his wheel.

The meeting spot was as bare after the ride as it was before.

As soon as I was back to my car and uploaded my ride to Strava, the kudos, the bling, and the comments poured in. I PR’d segments on the route I didn’t even realize.

I saw the others with whom I started the ride and kudo’d them. It was like I had been initiated into a secret society that anyone who follows them on Strava knows about. My own friends asked what PHP was and I had to tell them I had no idea what it stood for, but… then I’d detail the crazy ride I experienced.

I’ve since started commuting to PHP with a few men from my team. It’s about ten miles from the Littleton meeting spot to the PHP meeting spot. The guys told me it’s also a warm-up to PHP, but by the time we get to the bridge, I’m drenched in sweat, I’ve QOM’d segments, and my glasses are foggy from my warm face. Then PHP commences. I follow that with a ride on Cherry Creek path to work. I end up clocking in about 54 miles by the end of the day.

I’ve only seen a few other women ride at PHP, notably two Cat 2 women from Palmares who seem to be regulars. I could see why this would intimidate anyone who just started racing: you’ve 60 amateur cyclists trying to be like the pros, riding on public roads, 99% are dudes, testosterone is raging, and you’re privy to crashes.

One time I joined a B group actually formed. Some people think the B group is slower, but I work harder in this group because I actually get a turn to pull. It was both a good and bad experience. It was good because it was bad. It taught me how to handle myself and my bike around people who didn’t.

The men didn’t understand how a paceline worked and once they came to the front, they’d take off. The group would break up, there were no longer two lines, and we had to reel them back in. Halfway through the the route, I was sick of no one calling them out and I was concerned for my safety. I finally asked this one older dude, dressed in his green PHP kit (to prove his seriousness and dedication to an elusive bro’s club), if he was part of the paceline because he kept shooting off the front.

He growled back at me, “I’ve been doing this for ten years. Don’t tell me what to do!” Now, 18-year-old Jessica would have opened a bottle of verbal whoopass. 29-year-old Jessica swallowed her pride and bit her tongue hard enough to draw blood. Instead, I told him, “calm down, it’s just a ride.” Another teammate of mine tried to settle him down as well as a Palmares racer rode next to me and very loudly said, “For what it’s worth, you’re fucking right and he’s wrong.”

I tried to not let the dickhead ruin the rest of the ride. But it also made me realize it’s guys like that who turn women off from joining PHP. To men, it seems like it’s all about comparing not just dick sizes, but bikes. I know women can be combative, catty, and of course, competitive. But for a woman to join PHP, it’s much more than riding with the bros. We want to get faster. Stronger. We want to learn skills. And there aren’t many opportunities for a woman to do that in a big group setting. When there are women’s workshops, we’re lucky to hit double digits.

I think the fear is what I worry about each time I go to PHP: being the only one who can’t keep up. Getting in a crash. Not having anyone I know there.

Luckily, I have teammates who care about my wellbeing and are great examples of how to treat others in the peloton. They hold their line, they call their pass, they tell me where I need to go.

Each time I’ve joined PHP, I’ve been able to stay with the group longer, which says something about where my fitness is going. My good cyclist friend, Anna, tells me all the time to ride with guys because it’ll make me faster. And I think I found the guys who will do just that.

Race Anecdotes: Superior Morgul Time Trial

Grey clouds stretched across the sky as sweat poured down my face. I wished for dry weather. My interval timer lit up green, signifying a 60-second break before my next effort. Then a couple of drops fell on to the screen.

Please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. Droplets multiplied with each interval. Halfway through my warm-up, I could no longer decipher between sweat and rain.

I peered across the parking lot full of stationary cyclists. Heads bobbing and faces glistening from sweat and drizzle. Everyone staring at the ground unless a familiar face approached their little five-foot training zone.

I always want to look tough, for whatever egotistical reason. I guess it’s one of those beliefs that if I look the part, maybe I’ll act it. I have this fear of people thinking I’m weak so I assume if I act like I’m not gonna take anyone’s shit, no one will mess with me. I learned that back when I was in elementary school and was constantly ridiculed about the moles on my face. I taught myself that if I confronted the bullies first, they usually backed down. Then I became hard and people left me alone.

I rolled up to the start line, regretting not dressing warmer. They counted down: 5…look at all the fucking rain.

4…god, I hope my legs are ready.

3…just catch the women in front of you.

2…I don’t want to come in last.

1…fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck

Go.

Water attacked my face and my legs were already burning before I reached the woman in front of me.

I always wonder if I’m the only one whose legs burn prematurely, who wants to give up five minutes into the race, who hopes for a mechanical so I can blame something else other than my inabilities.

I pushed each pedal until I caught up with her. Water splashed in my face. I broke my aero position to wipe my glasses. The rain smeared away leaving foggy mildew behind. My breaths were no longer smooth. They were quick, short, like I had no air.

Losing my vision is my biggest fear.

This ride tested my mental fortitude of racing and not seeing in front of me. I imagined hitting a pothole, sending it over my handlebars, and breaking my neck. Every time I couldn’t see through my sunglasses, I thought I’d crash.

Between not wanting to come in last and not becoming a paraplegic, I was a ball of anxiety. Slowing way down at turns out of fear of slipping out and crashing, allowed the woman who started after me to catch up. I heard her shift gears, saw her out of the corner of my eye, and I knew I wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped. We raced alongside each other up the hill, dodging piles of hail, puddles of rain.

“Don’t let her get ahead of you,” I thought. I’d gone too far to let her pass me at the end. I saw the orange cones ahead. I picked up my pace as she slowly drifted behind. I pedaled faster. I heard Stephen from inside the RV shout “go Jessica!” And I crossed the line.

The lady pulled over to tell me she didn’t realize it was the finish line. I’m not sure how you miss it, but that’s neither here nor there. I thanked her for inspiring me to work harder because I was mentally checking out before she caught up to me. “You pushed me harder at the end because I didn’t want you to pass me, so thanks for that.”

While I missed third place by 11 seconds, I learned that you can let fear control you or you can control fear. I realize too often I let fear imprison me. I slow down out of fear. I ease off wheels out of fear. I can’t clip in at the start of the race out of fear.

But fear is a choice. And every time we face fears, there’s one less thing that controls us.

Go All The Way

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery – isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

-Charles Bukowski

 

The first two lines of this Bukowski quote are printed across a photograph of a dirt path separating weeds, shrubs, and (maybe they’re) Sycamores. It’s clear the dirt road was formed from cars using the same path as the one before them and the one before that. There’s a little patch of weeds between the path of tires, peeking out of the ground amidst the dirt. I found this picture as I searched for “Bukowski desktop wallpaper.” I don’t know why someone chose this picture with this quote.

 

Maybe they read those lines and they envisioned a path leading them to isolation. This was their, “All the Way.” I don’t know what my “All the Way” looks like. I feel like I’ve committed to too many things and have lost focus to go “all the way” with something. I was looking through my notebook earlier and read what I imagined my ideal life to be like:

“When my life is ideal I am:

  1. Making a living off my writing
  2. Racing my bike around the world
  3. A world renown writer
  4. Working for myself
  5. Traveling the world first class”

 

That was 6 months ago. As I skimmed through the five passions I deemed would bring me my ideal life, I considered doing it again to see what’s changed because again, I feel like the path I’ve been on doesn’t feel like it’s leading anywhere.

The house was silent and gave me just enough energy to scribble another 15 passions and to whittle it down to five. Here they are:

  1. Traveling for fun every month to a new country, state, city, etc…
  2. Drinking coffee on our back porch in the mountains getting ready to write.
  3. Changing people’s lives for the better with my words.
  4. Waking up when I want to and riding my bike outside.
  5. Making $100,000/year working for myself.

 

What I’ve noticed between these two lists and what’s pervasive whenever I consider my future is writing. It always comes back to writing and yet, I never fully commit to making this a reality. I explained to Chris earlier today – or at least tried to – that writing brings me the most happiness. I’ve done it ever since I could put sentences together, but with each year that passes, I write less and less because too much of my time is spent on chasing after security. A false sense of security, might I add.

 

So many of us choose safety, security, caution over our dreams because following your dreams is scary. The future is scary. The job you currently have is not. I learned that you could hate your job and still lose that security you desperately grasp on to as if it’s the last breath of air. I’ve always been scared to follow my passion for writing because I buy into the idea that being a writer doesn’t generate a lot of money. I buy into the idea that I’m no J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, Sylvia Plath, or hell, Jen Sincero.

 

I don’t believe I’m good enough. A lot of us let that idea stop us from what we truly want to do. Too many of us take on boring jobs, boring partners, a house in the suburbs because we don’t think we’re good enough. We don’t think we’re worthy of following and achieving our dreams. I do. I’ve always felt that way. Any time I’ve submitted work or applied for a job I’ve thought, “I’m not going to get this. Someone is better than me.” Every time I think that.

 

I used to think I was the bee’s knees – I was also 16 and a total shithead. I was up my own ass, but dammit did I deserve the world. I was a fighter. I fought for what I believed in even if that meant pissing people off. I scribbled words that left me crying in bed because I got too real and my emotional teenage self was ripping out her heart and slapping it on the page.

 

I know the 16-year old Jessica would tell the 29-year old Jessica, “Fuck it, dude. Let’s go bowling.” She’d tell me to forget what others thought and if I wanted to write, then write. No one is stopping me.

 

And for you: do what you truly want to do. Stop playing safe because it will change. Your situation, your life, your friends, your partners, everything.. changes. The only constant in life is change. So go. Go out there and give it your all. You’ll laugh in the face of fear and spit in the eyes of the naysayers. Go all the way, so when you look back on your life, your 16-year old self would give you a high-five.

Pump the Blues

There are a lot of reasons to be happy around this time of year, but sometimes that just isn’t life. The thing about life is that it’s always challenging you. Once you overcome a challenge, life tests you again. It’s nothing personal. It happens to everyone. We are constantly faced with challenges and every one we overcome makes us that much stronger.

And it brings us down. Sometimes, we’re just too damn tired to face another battle with life, yet we march on, doing the best we can. The holidays can bring out the best and sometimes the not-so-good in us, so what do we do when it feels like Santa shit in our stockings?

Move.

Exercise has been found to make you happier.

 

  1. Doing moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity boosts your happy feelings. I run at MAF pace (180-your age; stay within 10 beats of that), which is 152-142 heart beats per minute. That’s a pretty moderately-paced run and your pace will differ substantially from mine depending on your fitness level. I also do interval training on the bike, which makes me sweat, pant, and get super red faced. TrainingPeaks will send me a few gold ribbons to make me feel better about my effort.
  1. Happy Feelings are endorphins and neurotransmitters, which are released from the brain. Exercises stimulates the release of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help regulate your stress hormones and boosts your mood. Think of a school cafeteria: it’s empty until it’s lunch time. Students start piling in. Just like exercise, lunch time for students generates a packed lunch room. You want every day to be like lunch time.
  1. Exercise helps with depression. People with depression have a smaller hippocampus in their brain, which regulates mood. When we workout our bodies release neurotrophic proteins, which facilitate nerve cells growth and make new connections. When we exercise, this results in nerve cell connections and growth in the hippocampus, which helps symptoms of depression.

Just like how weightlifters want to get mad gainz, you want your hippocampus getting those same gainz like the bros in the gym. Exercise is like lifting heavy weights, growing your muscles. So, pump some iron and move and create some hypertrophy in that hippocampus of yours.

  1. Exercising beyond your limit makes you mentally tougher. I can speak from personal experience that challenging myself in bike racing and 120-mile bike rides has made me more resilient. Knowing I can physically and mentally overcome challenges on the bike has given me the confidence to overcome adversity off the bike too. Additionally, when you work out, your body is forced to react to the stressors you’re placing on it. The more you place your body under this type of stress, the more likely it is to be able to handle other stressors.
  1. 20 minutes of exercise will boost those happy cells. You don’t even have to do some long, arduous workout. Simply going outside for twenty minutes for a walk or jog will help. The point is moving and getting your body to produce more neurotransmitters. If you can dick around on social media for twenty minutes without blinking an eye, surely you can walk outside, ride a bike, jog, yoga, anything that actually makes you feel good instead of FOMO.

 

What can you do?

  1. Move a little bit more every day. Start with 5 minutes if that’s all you can do right now.
  2. Make small goals in the short-term so they’re more likely to be achieved.
  3. Find something you actually like to do and do it often.
  4. Reach out to me and I’ll help: grinandgrindit@gmail.com

 

 

Resources:

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-02/ps-pay020812.php

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise#2

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-reasons-why-exercise-makes-you-happier.html

http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/13/health/endorphins-exercise-cause-happiness/index.html

https://www.fastcompany.com/3025957/what-happens-to-our-brains-when-we-exercise-and-how-it-makes-us-happier

 

 

Working Out On Your Period

I never realized how much of an affect my period has on my training. That goes for any woman. I always thought when I lacked energy or felt weaker or what have you, I thought that was just me sucking.

After coming in Dead Fucking Last at a Time Trial Championship, I wanted to find out what went wrong that day and how I could prevent it from happening in the future. After books and articles and podcasts, I was recommended Stacy Sim’s book, Roar. I read it and learned a lot about my menstrual cycle and I wanted to learn how best to structure workouts. Instead of working against the natural bullshit that comes with having a period and crazy hormones, I wanted to find a way to incorporate all these fluctuations.

This is what I found out.

The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long – some can be as short as 21 days and as long as 35.

There are two 14-day phases: Follicular Phase (Days 1-14) and Luteal Phase (Day 15-28).

My training plan changes well, daily, but let’s break these phases and the appropriate training into weeks.

 

Week One (Follicular Phase)

Day 1 – Start of your period and start of your menstrual cycle.

Follicular Phase begins (your exercise physiology is most like a man’s – strongest right now; you’re likely to feel less pain and recover faster.)

Day 5 / 6 – Ovaries start producing more estrogen

Low Hormone Phase (Day 1-14) – Eat about .35 gram of carbs per pound of bodyweight per hour (of training)

While you may have cramps and feel like a turd, your pain tolerance is actually at its highest right now. Your hormones are at their lowest, which means they’re not fucking with you right now.

Get your Hammerfest on. Go for PRs. Get gainz. Your body will do best with anaerobic workouts and you’re less sensitive to insulin.

Movement is also known to help with period symptoms.

 

Week Two (Follicular Phase)

Day 12 – Estrogen levels are high, luteinizing hormone is released which causes ovulation, and an egg is released from fallopian tubes.

Day 13 / 14 – Estrogen levels dip & Luteal Phase begins

Low Hormone Phase (Day 1-14) – Eat about .35 gram of carbs per pound of bodyweight per hour (of training)

Your Estrogen is ramping up, which means you’ll get more gains with weightlifting. Be careful though, because during Ovulation (Around Day 12), your joints are a bit more loose and the estrogen messes with collagen structure, so you’re more prone to injuries, particularly ACL tears.

 

Week Three (Luteal Phase)

Day 16 – Progesterone levels surpass estrogen to prepare the lining of the uterus for egg implantation; exercise will feel harder while hormones are high.

VO2 Max and Lactate Threshold are unaffected throughout your cycle but your reaction time, neuromuscular coordination, and manual dexterity diminishes when your hormones are high, so Days 16-24.

Also, during this time, blood sugar levels, breathing rates, and thermoregulation are negatively impacted.

High Hormone Phase (Day 15-28) – Eat more carbs, about .45 gram of carbs per pound of bodyweight per hour (of training)

Your body isn’t going to work out best at high intensity and it’s going to prefer to burn fat instead of glycogen. You may also retain more water in this phase.

This would be a good time for Lower Intensity workouts, like base training (Zone 1 and 2; aerobic instead of anaerobic), for example.

 

Week Four (Luteal Phase)

5 days before start of period – Estrogen and Progesterone levels peak. This is where you experience premenstrual symptoms.  

High estrogen levels negatively impact the growing capacity of muscle and progesterone revs up the breakdown of muscle tissue, making it more difficult to access amino acids. This means that muscle breaks down faster during hard efforts. When Progesterone is high (Day 15-28), you definitely want to make sure you get 20-25 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing your session.

Estrogen reduces your body’s ability to burn carbs but increases its ability to burn fat. This works for endurance athletes who have trained their bodies to burn fat as energy, but for high intensity activities, you need to eat more carbs.

Our plasma volume drops which is the volume of fluid in our blood. When that’s low, our blood is thicker, which means less blood is pumped with every heartbeat, making exercise feel harder because you don’t sweat as efficiently to cool off.

Progesterone raises our body temperature, so during the high hormone phase, we’ll feel hotter. Progesterone also increases the amount of sodium you sweat out (called “hyponatremia”) so you should counteract this the night before an event by drinking hydration drinks that include sodium.

5-7 days before your period, step up your cramping pre-game prevention and take magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and 80-milligram aspirin every day. This supposedly helps prevent the pain from cramps.

 

Sim’s Action Plan for Power:

Performance during PMS

-250 milligrams of magnesium

-80 milligrams of aspirin

-1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids

Take those every night 7 days before your period starts

 

Pretraining

-Take 5 to 7 grams of BCAA’s to help with the lack of energy

 

In Training

High Hormone Phase (Day 15-28) – Eat more carbs, about .45 gram of carbs per pound of bodyweight per hour (of training)

 

Post Training

Progesterone is kind of an asshole. It breaks down muscle faster and inhibits recovery. When Progesterone is high (Day 15-28), you definitely want to make sure you get 20-25 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing your session.

 

Recommendations

  1. Track your period and your performance during the different phases (sleep, macronutrients, exercise)
  2. Workout in your fat-burning zone during the Luteal Phase to maximize fat-burning. Find your fat-burning zone by subtracting 20 from your Heart Rate Threshold. For example, mine is 174, so my fat-burning zone is 154.
  3. Eat protein. The jury’s out on this. Some recommend 1:1 protein to pound count while others recommend .8 grams of protein for every pound. Start tracking your protein intake to see where you’re at.
  4. Listen to your body.

 

Resources:

ROAR by Stacy Sims

Ben Greenfield

Race Anecdotes: Superior Morgul Classic – The Wall

I first learned about “The Wall” – as it’s so aptly named – from American Flyers. You know, the 1985 cycling film? With their poor excuses for helmets and toe-clips.

 

I previewed “The Wall” after the Time Trial the day before to see just how steep this sucker was. Of course, I took it easy and the preview certainly wasn’t at race pace. I also didn’t repeat it three times as I would be during the race. Needless to say, it was intimidating and I almost would have rather ran up it with my bike slung over my shoulder.

By this point in the season, I expected to see my bike rival, Cassidy. And I did see her, but she was racing her age group (finally). There was one less competitor I needed to worry about on the course.

I lined up at the front with my buddy, Jen, from Fort Follies. I’ve noticed that women from other teams will work together on the course because not all of us are lucky enough to have a teammate. Jen and I worked together to stay with some of the MW 50+ who separated from the rest of their Category.

By the first go at the Wall, half the group dropped. There were 4 of us Cat 4/5 and 2 MW50+ and we sucked on the MW50+ wheel hard. If they were going to do the work without complaints, I was going to let them. This group of 6 stayed together for the next lap as well. I hoped one of the chicks would drop off and I even thought she would because she was struggling. We were all sort of struggling because this race was tough. It wasn’t a hill climb, but it should have been considered one.

One of the MW50+ turned to the SW4/5 that was struggling and said, “This isn’t the race to force yourself. It isn’t worth it.” And of course I chimed in with, “yeah, no use pushing yourself for a race.” I totally thought by agreeing with this MW50+ lady that it’d convince the SW4/5 to drop, but she held on, and good for her for doing so.

It always cracks me up when us racers will sit there and be like, “Yeah, sure, it’ll be grand. No worries.” But in the back of our minds we’re like, “yeah, drop out so I can win.” It goes to show that racing isn’t just a physical race, it’s a mental game as well.

So there the four of us were coming toward the bottom of “The Wall” – our third and last up-and-over. The ALP Cycles coach was on the sideline coaching her two SW4/5s telling them, “Patience. Wait for it.” I kept thinking to myself, “fuck me, I’m going to have to race up this damn wall.” And not what we’d been doing the two laps prior, but legs a’blazin’ all out sprint finish.

I was already telling myself I didn’t have it in me. And that’s my biggest problem: never believing in myself that I can do it; that I can win. All of a sudden, Jen shoots out of her saddle and is sprinting uphill with still about 500 meters left. Then one of the ALPs chicks chases after her. The other ALP racer and I follow suite. My legs burned. My chest burned worse. I tried to keep up with Jen and the ALP chick, but my legs were burning something fierce.

I accepted third. As long as I got third it was fine. So I backed off. I kept looking back to make sure the other ALP chick didn’t pass me.

As long as she didn’t pass me, I was okay with third. In hindsight, this first season was a lot about settling. Granted, third is a better place to be than last. I never settled for last. But I still settled. I remember when I let off the gas because there was enough gap between 3rd and 4th.

My family was at the top of the hill cheering me on as I crossed the line. I pulled over and breathed away the feeling of wanting to hurl. I was exhausted, but excited to land on the podium again, even though I settled.

 

Race Anecdotes: Superior Morgul Classic – TT

Because I didn’t preview the TT course, I had no idea what to expect. Which, if you’ve read any of my previous anecdotal posts, you’ll know by now that it’s imperative to preview courses.

This is why I rarely previewed courses:

  1. I didn’t think it was necessary.
  2. It was too much work to find the course, create the route on my Strava account, and then import it into my Garmin.
  3. I had no one to ride with.
  4. It didn’t fit my “training schedule.”
  5. It was too much of a hassle to drive to all the different courses throughout Colorado.

Okay, so let’s break these down.

“I didn’t think it was necessary.”

Truth be told, I didn’t think I’d do all that well, so I thought it wouldn’t matter if I knew what the course was like or not. This sort of thinking sets you up for C-effort. This is why I came in 5th and not 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.

Previewing courses is necessary. You’ll know where the hills are, where you need to turn, where you can go full throttle, where the finish line is, all the things you need to know prior to racing if you want to strategize. Granted, my strategy was “giving racing a try.”

 

“It was too much work to find the course, blah, blah, blah.”

I don’t like finding courses on Strava. I don’t like making my own routes on Strava. And I really don’t like the process of importing the route to my Garmin. Sure, the whole process could take me an hour tops, but that’s an hour I can spend doing something I enjoy. It’d be much more convenient if the race directors inserted a link to the Strava route (which some do) within their race flyer, so we know what we’re racing.

This really comes down to being lazy. If I would have just bit the bullet and added the course/route, I would have been able to at least see where the hills were on Strava if I wasn’t going to ride the course myself.

 

“I had no one to ride with”

I didn’t want to ride alone on a new course. I can ride routes I already know, but new ones, ehhhh… not a fan. I think it’s the fear of getting lost. I don’t know why this scares me so much as I’ve been lost before with a riding buddy and we eventually found where we were going. I think it’s the idea of being alone and being lost and not being able to figure it out. I’m too prideful to call someone to pick me up and I have an irrational fear of my phone dying and being lost forever.

 

“It didn’t fit my ‘training schedule.'”

Truth be told, I didn’t have much of a training schedule as I was trying to do too many things at once. At this point in the year, I was still training for a double century, the Seattle to Portland ride, to be exact. Driving up to Boulder for an 11-mile bike ride was not part of my “training plan.” Could I have turned this 11-mile bike ride to a 50-mile or 80-mile bike ride? Yeah, sure. And then I didn’t.

 

“It was too much of a hassle to drive to all the different courses throughout Colorado.”

It is a hassle to drive to all the different routes peppered through Colorado, but winning takes effort. Winning takes strategy and planning. And if you don’t want to win, then don’t put forth effort. But don’t bitch and moan when there’s a hill you didn’t expect. The difference between the gal who comes in first and the gal who comes in last is effort. That’s all things effort: training, experience, planning, etc.

 

The takeaway:

Excuses are like assholes. Everyone has one and they all stink.