Sunday, May 17, 2015

Oh, hello...

So, I sort-of took a year off of the blogging thing.  No story there, but I'm starting to feel like getting back into the writing groove.

What have I been up to this spring?  Gravel!

I jumped into a spring gravel campaign this year with glorious and detailed training plans...which were, of course, drastically derailed by the cold that grips Minnesota each and every winter.  C'mon, it's not like I could have predicted this...

So, my training in March was a bit of a bust - just a few rides here and there in addition to my daily commute.  It was really starting to stress me out because the Ragnarok 105 was looming on April 11 and I didn't feel like my legs were up to the distance and elevation (8,000+ feet of climbing).  Two weeks before the race, I called it.  Just admitted to myself that I wasn't going to do it.

Then, a week before I got a great 65 mile training ride it in which I a) felt good, and b) didn't die.  I figured, why not?  The weather forecast was looking sunny and the Spouse would be at the ready with a car ride home, if needed.

I've now finished three gravel races:

  • The Ragnarok 105 was painful (so much climbing...), but ultimately an amazing experience.  I partnered with a friend at the 32-mile check-in and we worked together the rest of the race.  By "worked together" I mean we: whined repeatedly about the climbs, exclaimed over the beautiful countryside, and commiserated over our growing list of aches and pains.  I realized that the longer the ride got, the more strong and determined I became.  After Ragnarok, the rest of my races looked a lot less intimidating.
  • The Dickie Scramble was also a new one for me this year - 83 miles of rolling countryside just north of Rochester.  Oh, and this wonderful innovation: potluck rest-station.  One more time: potluck rest-station.  It was a cornucopia of everything you crave: peanut butter cups, bacon, beer, waffles, licorice.  Mmmm...  Again, I found a nice group of three new-friends, and we worked together through the windy open sections and brutal climbs.  
  • Finally, we went back and completed the Almanzo 100 just yesterday.  Another beautiful day (ok, a little rainy, but the wind was perfect), and as my experience grows, so does my confidence.  I started strong and kept going.  I took the rest I needed, but didn't stay off the bike too long.  In the end, I dropped nearly an hour from my time last year!  
And, most importantly, I haven't even looked at a road race this year.  I'm done, through, finished with road racing.  Gravel is free, the people are amazing, and the challenge is invigorating.  I have a few more gravel races scheduled in the next month, and may even compete in the Crusher in the Tushar in July.  Mountain bike racing stars in two weeks with the Mt. Borah Epic.  Bring on summer!

Friday, April 4, 2014

This Week...

This week my 100 Happy Days project has been easy to maintain as I spend my spring break in the mountain biking Mecca of Moab, Utah.  Here's to vacations that are both exhausting and exhilarating!

I snapped this photo out the car window as we left the Twin Cities.

We stopped and spent Saturday night in the Colorado ski resort of Breckinridge - beautiful mountain view out of our hotel room, and amazing crepes from a stand down the street.   Mmm...Nutella and banana...

For our first full day of mountain biking we eased into the trails by riding Moab Brands.  We also learned that any trail named Sidewinder is going to be an excellent ride.

Tuesday found us at Klondike Bluff snapping silly pictures of friends on rocks and enjoying a great and rocky descent.

By Wednesday we were ready for the big stuff and headed out to Pothole Arch at Amasa Back.  Storms made our way down a little exciting, but we stayed dry.

Thursday was a double - the most important trail was Slickrock in the morning.  Slickrock taught me that when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone you can discover you are capable of so much more than you thought.

Last morning in Moab - sad to leave the trails, but happy to be going home to the Spouse.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

4 Simple Goals for April

To begin, I am grateful to be in Utah on this first day of April.  Back home they are getting a nice April Fools joke of 20 degrees and snow.  Ugh.  I also know that my goals for this month are definitely shaped by the optimism that only comes with incredible rides on the dirt, warm temperatures, and good friends.  

My 4 Simple Goals for April:

Mind:  I brought along a big book on vacation - Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin.  There is no way I will finish it by the time I get back home, but I will definitely work to get it done by the sett of May.

Body:  Now that the snow is finally receding in Minnesota, my training for the Almonzo can begin in ernest.  My plan is to find a different gravel ride every weekend in April and post it for my teammates to join.  We have a good group from the team signed up this year and it would be  great to get some miles in together.

Enrichment:  Oh, the staircase project.  It continues, mainly because the Spouse and I are so much better at starting DIY than finishing.  Ok, scale things back.  In April I want to paint and stain the stairs.

Fun:  I'm not always on the leading edge of what is cool.  In fact, I'm usually about a year behind.  This means I have recently discovered the Netflix series House of Cards and Kevin Spacey's evil and strangely sympathetic character.  Finishing the first season of this show will definitely bring some fun to those April days when it is too cold and windy to bike.

Monday, March 31, 2014

March in Review

March has been a month of change, and that is a very good thing.  

Minnesota still has not dragged itself into full spring, but we are almost there.  The snow and ice continue to wage war on the streets and sidewalks of St. Paul, but it is a losing battle as more melts each day.

For me the month has also brought on much change.  I have felt a loosening of my OCD to the point where I can actually imagine a world where I am not plagued with intrusive thoughts and ridiculous routines.  Thank you meditation and pharmacology.  I've found a nice groove with my meditation practice and yoga is now something that is a natural part of my day.  

Most importantly the final days of March have brought geographic change, as I write this from warm Moab, Utah.  We arrived yesterday afternoon with enough time for me to pick up my bike (I selected the Rocky Mountain Altitude) but not enought time to hit the trails.  Today I ride dirt for the first time in...months.

Here's to change.  March was a good reminder that change is not always a bad thing.

Friday, March 28, 2014

This Week...

This week I started the 100 Happy Days challenge.  It is pretty simple: you take a picture daily for 100 days of something that makes you happy and share it via your preferred social network (Instagram for me).  

Why do it?  I admit, it is really silly, but I am always up for a challenge (apparently 71% of people who sign up fail to complete the challenge).  Plus, it has been a terrible winter, so this challenge will serve a dual purpose of reminding me of my present happiness as we move into warmer weather.  By my calculations, we will be in full summer at the end of my 100 days.  Yipee!

So here is my first seven of my 100 days:

Day 1: Yup, I did what every stylist begs you not to do - I cut bangs into my hair, and I couldn't be happier with them!  Score one for YouTube video tutorials!

Day 2: Getting my craft on.  I needed a yoga bag to carry my stuff on my upcoming vacation and I thought this would be a great opportunity to try out my new sewing machine.  I've now made four yoga bags, tweaking the pattern each time, and I am slowly regaining my eighth-grade home economics skills.

Day 3: The bike commute is now firmly established in my routine, and every day I get a reminder of why I do it when I cruse past gigantic potholes when Lexington Avenue parallels my bike path route.  The cars have to slow down so much to navigate the moonscape that I actually pass them on my bike!

Day 4: Sometimes being happy is making lemonade from lemons.  Day 4 saw me going home from work early because of a nasty virus, but sleep, hot cocoa, and catching up on The Good Wife made everything better.

Day 5: My caption for this photo is simple: It's melting...melting!

Day 6: Back to snow on the ride home.  Snow + lots of puddles = a very wet and cold Merry*Death.  Still, it is pretty even this far into spring...

Day 7: One thing I love about my bike commute - I get to see some beautiful sunrises on my way into work.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Letting Go of Expectations

So, I’m doing this whole mindfulness thing-y.  Yes, I am turning into one of those annoying people who moves a bit slower, speaks a bit more deliberately, and actively carves out time in their day for nothing.  Well, not nothing, seated meditation just looks like you are doing nothing.
I will be honest.  I came to mindfulness out of pure desperation.  Nothing happened quickly, but over the past couple of years I started to develop some negative habits in dealing with stress.  I have the type of brain that gets overwhelmed when there are too many details to remember, so I am constantly writing things down and making lists.  This usually works for me to keep my stress level in check, but gradually I started to be plagued by intrusive thoughts.  Did I really send that letter?  How do I know?  Is the deadline on that project really the 20th?  What if I read it wrong?
Ever so slowly, things started to shift and my behaviors changed.  After driving back into work for about the tenth time to make sure I had turned my coffee pot off, I just stopped making coffee at work.  Problem solved.  If I wanted to make sure I remembered the deadline, I would just print out the page and bring it home with me so I could check it again if I needed to.  And I always needed to.  Still: problem...solved.
Sometimes it is not easy to distinguish where you cross the line from a helpful coping mechanism to taking pictures of your office’s electric sockets to convince yourself that you did unplug your lamps.  As time passed my habits solidified into rituals that took a larger part of my day.  Still, no matter how many times I did something, no matter how many ways I tried to document it and get it firmly established in my brain, my brain would light on something that I just could not check right then and there.  And so I would worry.  And not sleep.  And worry some more.
Ugh.  I am here to tell you that obsessive compulsive disorder is neither cute nor comical.  The more things in my day I tried to control, the more I would find to worry about.  I tried to hide my increasing anxiety from my coworkers, but this becomes nearly impossible when you know the entire night janitorial staff in your building because you come back so often to check things.  The pictures I would take with my phone of my computer and files safely put away at the end of the day were no longer enough to convince myself that the computer was still there, safely put away an hour later.  
It is embarrassing, but this is where I found myself.  Anxious, nearly hysterical, and completely worn out from the demands of my own brain.  It took longer than it should have, but I finally made an appointment with my doctor to lay it all out there.  It was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be, we came up with a treatment plan, and I started on my way.
Long story short - part of my treatment plan is mindfulness.  Specifically the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction technique pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living.  It really isn’t complicated, but the program is a radical shift for my brain and body.  
Which brings me back to my current state of non-fitness and the lingering Minnesota winter that is now eating into spring.  The only biking I have been doing recently is my 45 minute daily commute.  I’ve stopped lifting weights entirely and my running shoes have been sitting unused for nearly a month.  At any other time in my life this state of affairs would have made me bonkers, but one of the first attitudes mindfulness helps you to cultivate is letting go.
And so this spring I have let go of any expectations I have about where I should be in my fitness.  I will ride when the weather is good enough for me to enjoy riding.  I am not one of those hardcore cyclists who rides in any weather.  When it gets sunny, when it gets warm, my bike will be cleaned and ready.  Until then, I will mindfully enjoy my commute!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Commuting Like a Lady: Dealing With Your Hair

I am embarrassed to say that I avoided commuting by bike for several years because of one (admittedly very silly) reason: my hair.  
The Fates gave me fussy hair.  I am not a fussy person.  I have naturally curly hair that grandmothers ooh and aah over, friends claim to want, but no one ever asks for.  When it behaves (accomplished through a strict washing regimen, expensive products, and a little lot of luck) it looks glossy and healthy.  But look at it the wrong way and half of it will fall flat while the other half frizzes out.  Commuting by bike might be fun, but dealing with my hair and a helmet was not something I wanted to do.
Two years ago when my work schedule no longer coincided with the Spouse’s, I was forced to make a plan for bike commuting.  It turns out I should have embraced the bike years ago, as the commute has brought me a relaxing way to start/end my day along with some added fitness.  Dealing with fussy hair?  Totally do-able.  In the past two years I’ve learned many handy tricks to commute by bike and remain presentable at work.

Finding the Right Helmet
The helmet is key.  When I’m on a training ride or racing I use a Lazer Genesis helmet that is snug and sleek.  Too snug, as it turns out, for my commuting needs.  For commuting I go with an older model Bell Sweep.  It still meets all the safety standards, but doesn’t press down on my hair as much.  It also has a wider range of adjustment with the head and chin strap, so I can easily change it up to fit whether I am wearing a thin scarf or thick hat.
Finding the Right Cover
My hair has a mind of its own.  Put it under a helmet without a covering and you are guaranteed to create a wiry frizz that will not soften or smooth out.  Keeping the hair covered, even when it is hot, is essential to keeping it happy.  During the hot months I use a simple one-layer bandana (just a whole bandana I have cut into two triangles).  In the fall I will switch it up to a full bandana (two layers), and I’ve had great luck with my Craft wind-stopper hat.  The ideal cover will be loose enough to protect the curls while still providing enough wind coverage to stop the frizz.

Finding the Right Style
The easiest thing to do is to have a hairstyle that can stand up easily to the various conditions commuting brings: rain, heat, cold, snow, etc.  I have had to make some concessions in my hairstyle to meet my commuting needs.  For example, when it gets really cold (from 0 to 20 degrees) I switch my helmet to a full-coverage Bern model with a built-in hat and closable vents.  There is no way for me to keep my curly hairstyle with this helmet, so I have my stylist give me a cut that will work with straight hair and dig out the flatiron.  Thankfully, this usually doesn’t last long and I can switch back to my more accommodating Bell helmet.
Extra pro tip: I never dry my hair totally in the morning.  It is easier for my hair to resist the frizz if there is a bit of moisture left when I start off.
Accept That Nobody Notices
One of the best lessons I have learned about hair is this: nobody notices your hair as much as you do.  In my early commuting days I had some disastrous hair days, and no one batted an eye.  Sure, I keep a few barrettes and hair ties around at work just in case, but I’ve also accepted that a flyaway here or a flat curl there is not something to stress about.  A mildly bad hair day is worth it, if it means I can start my morning watching the sunrise over Saint Paul as I cruise along on my two wheels...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Facing the Winter Commute with a Win Win Attitude

I did not go into this winter thinking I would stick with the bike commute.  I know there are hearty Minnesotans who are able to continue commuting by bike through the cold temperatures (-20 air temperature, -40 wind chill), but I am also fully aware of my own temperature limitations.  Given that my commute takes me about 25 minutes, I placed zero degrees as my dividing line between sucking it up and asking for a ride.  Any colder than that and I cannot maintain blood flow in my hands and feet.
With zero as my lower limit I stepped off the bike in early December, didn’t ride it at all in January, and only got in five days of commuting in February.  Given that local schools have called off classes six times during the past two months, I’m feeling lucky that I’ve ridden into work at all.
Still, I’m just about at my limit.  I’m sick of waiting around for my ride - while sharing a car may make economic and environmental sense, it is a pain in the butt every once in a while - and I’ve found I feel safer biking on the icy streets of Saint Paul with my studded tires than sliding around in a car.  Plus, I swear I can actually feel my muscles atrophying with every passing day...I need my commute to build up my legs for spring riding.   
It is time to take action.  It is time to psych myself up for getting back into the commuting routine - packing the bag the night before, cleaning the bike, organizing the outfits and food - just get out there on the road.
Though it may be corny, I’m taking my inspiration from the movie “Win Win” (aside: rent it - it is a good flick).  In the film the wrestling coach encourages a young prodigy to share his winning move with the team.  The kid confusedly tries to explain his move to the other boys, “Well, it’s not a move or anything, I just tell myself that the guy on top is going to take my head and shove it under water and kill me.  And if I don’t want to die on the bottom, I just gotta do whatever the f**k it takes to get out.”  The kid’s signature move now has a name: Whatever the F**k it Takes.
This is now my mantra for the rest of winter riding - whatever it takes, I’m going to get out there on my bike.  Getting back into the commute is about more than just getting back into shape.  Biking helps me arrive at work more relaxed and give me a chance to wheel away any lingering stress in the afternoon.  In terms of mindfulness it keeps me held within the moment as I navigate traffic, balance my body, and control my machine.  It is my daily check-in with the natural world.  It is my daily check-in with myself.  

Whatever the f**k it takes.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

4 Simple Goals for March

Once again the local weathermen and women are reminding us Minnesotans, with a sly touch of irony in their voices, that March marks the beginning of “meteorological spring.”
The concept of meteorological spring is clearly too stupid for words, as it is now -2 degrees outside and my sidewalk is flanked by snow piles that top off at over four feet.  Stupid weather-people.  Suckering me in with the S-word.  
Still, I look to March with optimism because I know that even if this winter continues its death-grip on the Northland for the next 31 days I will be able to escape with a planned spring break trip.  Ha!
It is in that spirit of eternal-spring-optimism that I make my 4 simple goals for March.

Friday, February 28, 2014

February in Review

So February...happened.  That is about all I can say.  
I had actually planned to post to this blog during the month of February.  I actually wanted to use the month to get into a two-per-week habit that would launch me into a three-per-week habit in March.  
But then the first week went by and I was tired.  The second week I was uninspired.  (Sorry for the unintentional rhyme.)  And then my break from writing became intentional.  Not surprisingly, it also coincided with a break from any actual training.  Complete and total couch-potato-ness.  It wasn’t that I was doing nothing.  It is just that what I was doing in February, for a rare span of time, had nothing to do with physical activity.  
The results?  
Still working on it.  Mindfulness is a pretty big change for me and my thinking.  I find it most telling that I cannot seem to describe it without using my usual language of comparison (“I feel like I am getting better…”), striving (“I want to be able to leave work without my OCD interfering…”) or judgement (“This is hard…”).  I cannot even say that this is a process, because it isn’t.  I’m just trying to be.  Still working on it.
I did find ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my February days.  It turns out the body scan is just something I used to do a long time ago in my previous organized athletic life and got away from.  Doing it now is like snuggling under a warm and old blanket from my childhood.  Now that I’ve been able to approach yoga without striving I find I am actually getting lost in it and enjoying it ( that striving language?).  Let’s just say it is not a chore or a task in my day.  
While this was happening, everything else just slipped off my radar. House projects remain untouched, bikes sit by uselessly in the winter chill. I've started to read regularly again, but only by picking up the lightest and fluffiest of books that my inner-English-major-self is scoffing at. So be it.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

4 Simple Goals for February

This year, more than any other in recent memory, Minnesotans collectively complained about the weather for the entire month of January.  Don’t get me wrong, there was much to complain about - 5 days of wind chill warning (issued by the National Weather Service when the wind chill becomes “life threatening”), and 10+ inches of snow over the average.  If you only paid attention to what we say, you would think those of us from the North Star State were the dumbest people on earth.  Why live in a place we seem to hate so much?
Yet our actions tell a different story.  
Saint Paul celebrates winter every January with the Winter Carnival - we ski, watch parades,dig through snow banks looking for a hidden medallion, marvel over ice sculptures, and squeal in fear and delight when the Vulcans come running (they used to really chase and kiss you - now they maintain a safe and legal distance).  The great city across the river hosts the US National Pond Hockey Championships every January.  Minnesota is quickly becoming a mecca for fat bike racing (still not enough for me to get one of those unwieldy contraptions) and several Nordic ski races with the word “Loppet” in the title.  Sure, we complain...and then we go out and have fun in the snow.
I am reminding myself of this as February begins because, well, because sometimes I need a little reminding of the fact that Minnesota is a great place to live year round.  February is not for dreaming of July, but for enjoying the absolute February-ness of the winter freeze.  And it is with this presentness in mind that I set out my 4 Simple Goals for February...

Friday, January 31, 2014

January in Review

I promised myself that I would be more intentional about my goals in 2014 - that I would actually do more than write them down at the beginning of the month.  That I would take concrete steps to accomplish them.
How did I do in January?  Meh.
It turns out January was not the fresh beginning that I hoped it would be.  But c’mon, don’t we always trick ourselves into that frame of mind every year?  January was...tougher than usual.  My OCD flared into the awful (yup, I have OCD...not the cute kind where you check the lock a second time, but the horrific kind where you can’t leave work for an hour-and-a-half because you can’t convince yourself that the file cabinet is locked), the weather was foul, and I couldn’t possibly feel more like a couch potato.  
Yet, it wasn’t totally bad.  I did (technically) finish two books: Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Love is a Canoe by Ben Schrank. (Aside: Canoe is a good book - definitely recommend it.) 
Though I didn’t run two days a week for the month, I did get to the point where I feel strong in my running shoes again.  (I’m not even tempted to walk/run!)  
The staircase project has progressed into something much, much bigger (it involves stripping and replacing textured wallpaper), but it did actually progress ( is not yet complete).  

There is something strangely satisfying about peeling away old painted wallpaper...
Finally, we did get out to see some great films in January - Philomena was amazing (I certainly didn’t see that one coming, I can tell you that!), Nebraska was great (if a little close to home...oh, so like my family…), and while Inside Llewyn Davis wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, I’m still singing “Dink’s Song” on a daily basis.  
So, here’s to a month gone by, and here’s to my optimistic heart that February will bring brighter, longer, and warmer days.