Monday, June 28, 2010

"Go Sit the Bench and Think About it"

It was pretty rare that I heard that command from my coach when I played basketball. Usually when I did, I deserved it. I kept a pretty strict approach to basketball and approached the sport as I was brought up on it: fundamentals first. Since basketball was everything to my area I grew up in and since I was discovered young (about the 2nd grade), ball was one basic drill after another before ever getting to play a real game. And since my Dad was a sports official, and often reffed my games, I had to keep a pretty tight ship. He cut me no slack and actually held me to much higher standards than those playing around me. Those fundamentals and hard work standards made me who I am today and when I start getting a little out of line, I always tell myself I need to sit the bench and think about what it is exactly that I'm doing. Not just in sports, but in all walks of life.

I felt I needed to sit the bench after French Lick.

Of coarse I really wanted to go to the WORS US Cup race in WI last week. At least in my heart of hearts. But I wasn't sure if I should. Did I need to take a break? Of coarse, its hard to bench yourself. Its even harder as a grown up when you think you know what's going on. Its also hard to get benched when all is going the right way. For example. Back in high school, I stole the ball from the the other team, got down court in a clean break all by myself. All my coaching told me I knew I should go in for the easy lay-up and take the sure points, but instead I decided to pull up at the 3 point line and take the shot there. To me, I always felt more comfortable with a outside shot than a lay-up and I didn't see the risk, but it was obvious to the crowd, and the coaching staff, that this was a crazy move, as I felt the entire packed gym hold their breath and stare me down at the moment the ball released my fingertips. The fact that the 4,000 or so people were completely silent, made the swish of the score even more crisp. Swoosh... I slowly turned to my coach and smiled. He was not amused and told me that if I would have missed I would be warming the bench... hard to bench you when all goes right. Of coarse I never doubted that the ball wouldn't go in, and I knew it would the second it left my hand. I was confident. Just like before French Lick (FL)- I had won my last 4 races, but I felt I was getting a little ahead of myself.

I was on a race streak, which was great, but I started to feel I should be winning all those races no matter what. Really, Nicole, Nik, Nicke, nikthesleeper, nickeraecole? Or whatever I want to call myself today... I really had to step back and realize I am still recovering from surgery and if I expected to kill it every weekend, I need to sit my butt down and think about it a little. Get real girl. So I did. I just wasn't benching myself because I felt I was punishing myself for getting 3rd, I was doing it so I could get into a little better focus on training and moving more toward some of my main goals later in the season. I have no doubt that I could have went to WI and claim a podium spot, just like I landed that 3 pointer, but I'm gonna save that shot for another day. A day when I am more confident the shot will go in.

Racing is great, but it limits training, and while I want to do good at mtb, I have bigger plans for cyclocross. By skipping a few races here and there, I can focus on my on the bike and off the bike workouts, and not to mention, get back to a regular calorie by calorie focus on my food, and a good sleep pattern. I am a sucker for a race and would probably do so every day of the week if it were possible, but that makes missing a few here and there even better for me. What hunger I don't full-fill for racing today, only makes me starving for competition later. And when your sitting on that bench all alone, you really want to get out and play the game after watching everyone else out there.

When I was benched in basketball, I would go home, or to the practice gym, late after the game and start doing fundamental drills and free throws under the street lights or until the janitor kicked me out of the gym. And so goes it now for cycling, so it's not like I have been sitting around all week. I have been focusing on the fundamentals of cycling and training hard.

I'll be ready to check in again soon to the game, I've thought about it.

"The appetite of the lazy craves and gets nothing, while the appetite of the diligent is richly supplied."
Proverbs 13:4

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ya Win Some... and Some Ya Don't

That's right.
I was gonna title the post "You win some and you lose some." And for about 48 hours after the race I felt like a loser, but placing 3rd at a venue that has a lot of climbing, 6 months after surgery with a left leg functioning less than 40% isn't really losing. Besides, anyone even going out there in 105 degree heat, and muddy conditions wasn't a loser even if they were last place.

So that's how it ended: I placed third behind Nikki D and Amanda Mckay.

I spent the remainder of Saturday evening after the race trying to reason just how and why that happened. I thought my power was improving and I felt prepared for this venue. Where did I possibly go wrong? Well, I didn't really go wrong. Some days people are just better than you, and some gals are just better built for certain races than me. Tough pill to swallow- but its the bitter truth. The top two gals were lightweights. Mountain goats. Four stroke engines... and well... I'm not. I'm not a climber, I'll never be a goat, and I'm more like a 2 stroke engine. Which leads to the other problem I had that day. I over heated my engine. I refused to admit to myself that the fact that I had goose bumps and lack of sweating 30 minutes into the race may have played a factor in my overall performance. Even though I recognized it in the race and intentionally pulled back on my pace, I forgot all that information in the end. If anyone has ever ridden a 2 stoke dirt bike (which I did for many years) you know they don't do so well grunting around doing sustained hill climbs in the woods. They do great in short, punchy situations. Try and run the motor too fast for too long and you'll blow the engine (which I have also done).

(This how I felt: burrrrieeed! In the pain cave)
I knew I either had to back down on the 2nd ascent of the race and let Amanda pass me, or blow up completely and DNF. I choose to back down. By the time I backed off I was almost gone, but I kept fighting the fight, which I am now proud of, and hung in there. I spent the next 45 minutes trying to recover. After getting a bottle hand up from teammate Brien Fields on lap 2 of 2, I started to come around in the next 10 minutes and actually put the remainder of the 2 hour race together. But as I'm sure you can do the math. I spent too much time blowing up and recovering in comparison to actually racing... some days you just struggle. I struggled, but I was happy to rally and hang on for 3rd and enjoy the last downhill section.

Adding injury to insult, the super sweet pine section was for some reason rerouted through a crappy, muddy, unused fire road. This was bad for me since it was covered in poison ivy. Being that I'm super sensitive to the stuff, the oils from it being raced on all day became inhaled by me and over the next couple days I formed a full blown internal inflammatory process. That means swollen eyes, wheezing, fatigue, blistered face lips, and a weight gain of about 6 pounds from swelling. Nice! Guess I maybe deserved that for beating up on myself mentally... but the rest of the sweet trails made up for it.

I spent the remainder of the weekend being mad at myself for not doing better. I now wish I wouldn't have done that. In all honesty, I did the best I could and gave 100% of what I had that day. That's all I can ask of myself. I'm sure the Colts didn't think they were losers after scoring a loss near the end of their perfect season before the playoffs. I bet they learned from their loss and started moving on to the next game... Matter of fact, I almost sure they did. If history proves right, they finished the year pretty good. Really good!

I plan on doing the same.

I fought the good fight.
I finished the race.
I kept the faith.

I thank God for giving me the faith and opportunity to do all of the above!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Being Well Rounded

I've always been a big fan of pushing my limits physically, and its been fun the last couple of years to really grow as an athlete again and focus on improving my fitness as much as I can. My cycling coach with DRT Consulting has really helped me with that. I have always been athletic and most "skills" have always come easily to me. I learned how to downhill ski after doing the bunny hill one time before heading to the big hills. Stuff like that. I had a few years of career training that I had to step away from serious athletic training, but I have enjoyed the last few years of finally getting settled with my anesthesia practice and being able to focus on cycling more.
While athletic, I always seem to have to put in a little more effort than some to keep my strength and fitness at the top level. Add on top of that, the need to rehab from some serious surgery the last few years, has had me working double time to be in top form. I have been very pleased to say my hard work is paying off by seeing improvements in my fitness levels. Let's face it, we all work really hard on the bike to be at the top level, but I am hoping some of my off bike routines will maybe give me a little extra edge come cross season. Besides, I am doing some extra things to get my surgery leg back to at least 50% by that time.

Darrell Carr (pictured above) is the mastermind behind the strength/ core workouts. He's a former D1 college wresting national champion and is very knowledgable about pushing the body to its best. On days that Don has me doing core workouts, I get some major workouts in from this guy. He looks so nice and sweet, but I really think he tries to kill me at times. I was introduced to D. from fellow rider and personal sponsor supporter Matt Johnson of Johnson Chiro. Darrell has his simple (but tough) workout rooms in an old embalming room of a revamped funeral home that is Matt's office. I always get a kick out of this. I tell D. that if I die during the workout at least the funeral facilities are kinda in place.

The cool thing about Darrel is that we do a lot of non-typical gym stuff. Most things we do never involve barbells and standard equipment. The majority is done with kettle bells, balance balls, TRX, and just plain old body stances. Just when you think you have something down pat where it's almost easy, D. switches it up to make it incredibly hard again. As you see above, we have moved on to doing squats on a balance ball after standard squats became easy. I was doing about 300-400 body squats a set, now the ball forces me to use my bad leg or fall on my face.

Here we are doing a little trx exercise. Having your legs suspended does a cool job of making a simple core exercise ten times harder. As you can see from the tan lines, I still do my time on the bike. D. and I do several exercises mixed in my workout that are seen in popular things like P90X and TRX. The difference is that he has picked the ones that improve cycling and cyclocross strength such as barriers, and dismounts, as well as focusing on things that get the hip flexors to get the pedal stroke more connected with the core. He also focuses on my personal weaknesses. Its easy revert to doing things in the gym that your good at, but having a personal coach doesn't let you do that. Weaknesses are the focus, not strengths, that way balance is achieved.

It's a real blessing to be able to have the help from experts around me like my cycling and core coaches. Some moments I don't like them very much because they put me in the hurt locker, but I really love it deep down since I have seen great improvement over the last year. I started at around 25-27% body fat a few years back and now I can say I'm down to around 10- 11%. Finally, a body fat level that is categorized in the "elite athlete" column! They give me the direction, but it still takes a personal work ethic to follow it to be a well rounded athlete.

Aside from that, my very least favorite thing is doing what you see above- ankle PT. Not sure why I dislike it so much, but I have so many thera-bands I'm gonna start a PT supply business. I think I need to start thinking of PT as "training" and maybe that will help. Has anyone ever liked PT?

I guess I better get used to it because having one side of my body be totally weak isn't well rounded. So I'm gonna stick to it and get better.

The French Lick Kenda Cup qualifier is on racing tap for the weekend. I'm curious to see how the turnout will be, its probably the biggest stakes mtb race Indiana has ever had, so that's pretty cool! I look forward to doing my best and seeing if some of this dedication can pay off some more. I'm looking to improve on my DRT XC race times from a few weeks ago, should be fun trying. The cool part is that Summit City Bicycles in Fort Wayne has been working hard to get some 29er race wheel in for me. I can't wait to try these hoops out, everyone keep your fingers crossed that the mail system is 100% on delivery to the shop this week.
This way, my bike will be well rounded also!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Well, I guess I've been slacking a little on the blog post and am a bit overdue for an update. I keep having a couple plans for posts here soon, but today I will just settle and bore everyone with a couple race updates and such.

The last couple weeks have been busy as the last 2 races were on the road at French Lick and Brown County. I was lucky to be able to get the RV out for the year and take it along for each of these weekends, which makes race day really convenient, but takes some time and hard work to get it going for the year.

I have been in a bit of a mental funk as of late, which seems to be a little odd for me in all honesty. Looking back, I realize I was just really taking a little time for reflection about what's important to me. I think its easy to get caught up in the constant obsession with training and racing and somewhere in there we need to step back and assess what we're really doing with life. This self reflection was probably brought about partially by my recent book I just finished: Uncommon by Tony Dungy. It was his second book and I highly recommend it for everyone. Very, very good. My time aside from everything else I have been doing has been spent reading another really good book: The Bible. I committed to reading it start to finish after being inspired from my surgeon, and my recent struggles that have come about from dealing with all the challenges that have come with surgery. I always read bits and pieces, but never in this manner. I'm pretty sure events in my life recently haven't been random occurrences and you'll be seeing a few Bible quotes from here on out to draw on my belief of the amazing power that God has in my life (and yours). I'm not a Bible beater, but a little faith put into a blog won't kill anyone! It will probably do the opposite in fact.

In other news, I'm totally stoked to be able to shave my both of my entire legs without road blocks at the moment. I took out my skin sutures last week from the pic above and my friend Dr Cook, did a nice job on it. He thinks it looks a little rough, but he's a bit of a perfectionist and I don't think a wider scar is gonna make or break me at this point. The good news is that I don't seem to have a stitch, cut, dirt rash, poison ivy, hematoma, or scape on me at the moment. Knock on wood, but I hope that holds out for a while. Smooth legs feel nice for a change.

So I also seem to be on a bit of a winning streak. Which is pretty cool. As of this writing, I have won my last 4 races I have entered. One of these was the DRT French Lick XC. I was excited to preview this venue for the upcoming pro cup (or whatever its called) and turns out several other gals were too! We actually had a great female turnout for the race and I was excited to see more gals at the DRT event which is run so professionally. Maybe this can become a trend? Anyway, the venue was super fun. Lots of variety and a good mix of flow and tech in my book. It's a bit of a climber coarse, which isn't my specialty, but it has enough spots for me to lay out some flat power. The thing about it was is that it was rough. This was compounded by the mega heat and humidity of the race day. Being that the trail is newer, it had new trail bumpiness and I was really wishing I had a 29er full-suspension after my coarse recon on Saturday. I knew it was rough since my 1 hour ride had formed a super painful saddle sore in that short time of riding. Aside from that, I loved the place. It had a great natural beauty as you can see from the trail pic above. I kept a easy, steady pace for the first 2 laps to not overheat, and then after seeing I had a good lead, I chilled out on lap 3. I say "chilled" because I started to get a little heat stroke and noticed I had some goose bumps. So it was slow down, or drop out... and dropping out isn't how I roll. In the end, it was a 2 hr 45 min effort. A long race. I payed for it for about a week and a half, feeling like death from the effort and dehydration. I look forward to the Dino race there in a couple weeks to see how I can improve more.

Next up was the popular Brown County State Park Dino race. I love the turnout for this race, and I love riding here, but I wouldn't say its on my top places to race. Even though BC is probably the trail I would consider my 2nd hometown place since I frequent there so much, it really doesn't play into my strengths... and that means it has climbing. That's why I go there often. To train my weaknesses, and over the years my weaknesses really aren't all that weak in perspective to other people I race, they are just things I have to force myself to concentrate on. After all, I can't always ride in the rain and wind on a flat stretch of crappy, sketchy roads.

Anyway, I won the race! I felt I rode a smart pace for me and gave it just as much as I needed to win. I was pretty happy about it since we had a strong field of gals here too. I really spent the whole week prior trying to fuel my nutrition with clean foods and worked really hard to get back hydrated. It nice too, when I have a calm work week that didn't have me up in the middle of the night too much. That I can't control, but I'm getting better at sleeping when I find the chance. It really takes a concentrated effort to put it all together on race day, and I was able to put the whole week together for a good race. Its not just about riding a bike, its everything in your life. If you want to be good, you better be prepared to sacrifice more than the next guy beside you. Its the whole package.
After the French Lick race, it seemed like this race was so easy and short. The temps on the day were perfect and my race time was 1 hr 31 min. I was hardly winded after this and felt I could have rolled on to do another lap, especially since it was so fun on the 29er. The only bummer part was the never ending struggle to pass some of the sport men. I had so many dudes to pass it was like working my way through a concert crowd in a stadium trying to get a concert tee shirt. Struggle. While most of the guys get over for the pass, there seems to be a few more these days who hate being passed by a girl. All I have to say is: dudes, I'm faster than you. No offense, but I probably put in more training, riding, and strength workouts in a week than you do all month. I've been racing some form of bikes for 15+ years. It doesn't make you less of a man, so face it, deal with it, and get out of my way before I tire rub you causing you to crash and rack yourself. That would be real embarrassing now wouldn't it?

Yep, that's it for now. I'm looking forward to a little home race this weekend with the kcv club at Winona. Then its back on the road again as the competition will be stepping up even more with two national level races.

Lastly, I leave you with a great quote from a great man that passed on this week. He was not only a inspiration to me on my way to being a All-State basketball player, but lived a inspiring life. RIP John Wooden.
Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters.

Make sure what you do and how you act on the bike is how you want God to know you. Racing doesn't change your true character, it just brings it out for others to see.