Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Regional champ?!?

A few weeks ago I got an email informing me that I am the Women Age Group 25-29 Southeast Regional Champion for XTERRA Triathlon! Meaning that I qualified for the 2018 World Championships in Maui! As exciting as this sounds, I think it deserves a big LOL in addition to feelings of success and accomplishment. I don't want to belittle it and sound all aloof, but sadly I didn't have a ton of competition at the two XTERRA races I did this past summer. Not that I didn't try hard at the races, of course I did, but due to the low numbers of women, I was more competing against myself than for age group spots.

Strangely, being someone that loves races, I'm not a very competitive person... against other people. But I am super competitive against myself. My goal for most races is to do the best that I can do, and wherever that lands me in the rankings, I'm happy with that. My feelings of accomplishment in a race come from knowing that I pushed myself to my limits and gave it my all, not necessarily that I placed in my age group or overall (but it definitely doesn't hurt!). There are too many variables to winning that it quickly gets overwhelming and stressful. Not my style anymore. I've spent too much of my time as a road triathlete worrying about races, and finally realized it's just not worth it. I do way worse at races that I stress about and way better at ones that I go into excited with no expectations except to have fun.

But if you are someone who revels in how you place (which is completely fine, you do you!), my getting the regional champ label is a good lesson in the benefits of just showing up to races -- you never know who will be there and how they'll do. Don't ever avoid races because you think there will be too many fast, competitive people. And no matter how much I say it doesn't matter to me, a podium finish is an awesome way to end a race. Getting on the podium is such a confidence booster and a great motivator. Just for me personally, I know I can get obsessed and I don't want such a consuming goal to take over my life at this point in time (maybe someday again though...).

But back to the world championships, it would be fun to go do that race mostly for the atmosphere and scenery. And to have the opportunity to toe the line with some of the world's best off-road triathletes. It would also be cool to see where I rank among them. And racing at such a cool event would make me push myself even more.

Yet when I watched recaps of their past championship races, the bike course looked a bit disappointing (aka boring). It looked like it was mostly fire and access roads (wide gravel or dirt roads) instead of single track. I know those are "off-road" and they can be challenging physically with climbs, but I'd expect a world championship race to challenge their athletes with more technical single track. Or else it's just a road tri on soft roads. I saw this year they're adding more single track, so things are changing hopefully!

Highlights from the 2017 XTERRA World Championships. Bike portion starts around 2:00. Where's the single track??

Unfortunately, racing at the world championship this year is just not possible for various reasons. Not to mention the crazy race cost ($550), getting to Hawaii with all my gear, and hotel costs, all which add up top a ridiculously expensive race vacation. I've really been liking the lower race costs of off-road tris compared to on-road ones, so it's a bit disappointing that this one is so freaking expensive.

Maybe one year I'll qualify again and the stars will align and I'll be able to go. But until then I'm very happy racing for fun and seeing where the wonderful world of off-road tris and mountain biking takes me.

Do you race to place? Or is fun your ultimate goal? Or some combination? I'd love to hear your thoughts about race motivation in the comments section!

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Banana/pumpkin/apple pancakes

Alex and I have a bunch of recipes we've honed over the past few years and I want to share their yummy-ness. Our recipes come together after many iterations of throwing together ingredients and then finally remembering to write down what we used and how much. With these recipes, please substitute/experiment to make them your own! That's how ours were created.

These pancakes are probably the best pancakes you'll ever have! And I don't say that lightly. Also they're super healthy (no added sugar, whole wheat) and perfect for after a long ride or run. And they freeze great and heat up easily for a snack.

The idea for this recipe started with Chocolate Covered Katie's Healthy Waffle recipe. I used to make this recipe all the time after long weekend workouts. One time I didn't have apple sauce so I substituted bananas and it tasted great. Then I realized pancake and waffle recipes are very similar and you can easily interchange them by altering the consistency, so I started using the recipe for pancakes. I eventually quadrupled the recipe because I wanted leftovers, but didn't want to use that many bananas, so I used half bananas and half apple sauce. When I made them with Alex, he decided it needed butter instead of oil. And then we wanted to try pumpkin in it (because you know PSL...) and that tasted great too. So long story short, here's the best pancake recipe you'll ever taste!

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cup milk (1 1/2 if using pumpkin)
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted plus extra for pan
  • Choose two: 2 mashed bananas (frozen or fresh) or 1 cup pumpkin puree or 2 apple sauce snack cups (no sugar added)
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tbs pumpkin pie spice (if using pumpkin)

Combine dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice if using) in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine wet ingredients (milk, butter, your choice of banana and/or pumpkin and/or apple, vanilla). Pour dry ingredients into wet and mix well. Add more milk or water to get desired consistency. I usually like my pancake batter a little thicker so the pancakes are thicker, but then you don't make as many. Alex usually makes the batter a little thinner. Really up to you! 

Heat pan over medium low heat. When hot, coat pan with butter (do this! you won't regret it). Pour batter on pan for whatever size pancakes you'd like. Flip when bubbles start to pop and underside is nicely browned. Cook for another minute or so and then put on cooling rack to cool (we've found this helps them cool without making them soggy). Repeat until you're out of batter or have just enough for one giant last pancake like Alex made, pictured below. 

These pancakes are sweet enough for us that we don't eat them with maple syrup (but if you do it better be real syrup from a maple tree!). Alex sometimes puts some honey on his. We both really like them with almond butter. 

If you have leftovers, they freeze really well and then heat up nicely in a toaster over or toaster.

An Alex sized pancake.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Flashbacks of a reformed roadie

Despite my recent love of the trails, I still do enjoy road riding and miss it a lot. I miss the freedom and peace, speeding along on an open road. Your legs carrying you as far and fast as they can while exploring areas you’d never have a reason to drive through. There was great road riding in Massachusetts where I first started biking, and surprisingly in southeastern Virginia, where I went to grad school. I especially miss my morning rides, starting just as the sun is rising, seeing a beautiful part of the day that few people do.

Unfortunately, where we live in SC, road riding is not very accessible. When we first moved there, I tried to go on rides to find a fun and, most importantly, safe route. But it was a futile search. So I’ve retired my tri bike to my trainer and my road bike has been hanging off the ceiling, out of the way. That is, until I finally had an excuse to take it down and pump up it's tires.

On Labor Day weekend, my friend invited me down to Savannah to show me some mountain biking trails and also to help her lead a road ride the next day. It was a 25 mile ride that was part of the Savannah Century Ride. Being the shortest ride of the event, it was marketed towards beginner and casual riders. A great excuse to get out on the road and explore a new city.

When we arrived to the ride in the morning, I had so many flashbacks of my past life as a roadie and realizations of where I would have ended up if I hadn’t met Alex and found mountain biking. I probably would have been one of the Lycra clad cyclist, warming up on my full-carbon speed machine, ready to drop anyone that couldn’t keep up with me. I’ve been there, done that, got the QOMs to prove it. Even though I could probably pretty easily slip back into that persona, get caught up in the road/triathlon biking culture, it just doesn’t feel right for me anymore. Not all roadies/triathletes are like this, but with me loving speed on the road and being competitive with myself, it drives me to want to ride with the fast, competitive, and not necessarily welcoming crowd.

Me in my previous life as a road triathlete at USAT Collegiate National in Tempe, AZ. Disc wheel is homemade :)
But, wow, mountain biking has changed me as a cyclist, and as an athlete as a whole. I no longer think speed is all that matters, and that stopping and trying something again means you’re weak. I no longer think I need to have a PR on Strava on every ride. I no longer care about having the lightest, fastest bike, but instead the one that makes me feel the most confident and, most importantly, lets me have the most fun. Because ultimately, as Alex taught me, mountain biking is all about playing on a bike and having fun. Learning to do things smoothly and confidently is way more important than just how fast you can do them, because in the end, learning all the proper techniques will make you a better, faster rider... and then you can have even more fun!

Okay, back to the road ride. The one we were “leading” (I had no clue where we were going since this was my first time in Savannah. I think I was more emotional support crew than leader) was a very different make-up than the longer rides of the day – lots of beginners, people on mountain bikes and hybrids, which was completely fine! They were just out there for a nice cruise along beautiful roads. I was so excited to be back on the road that I had to consciously hold myself back from taking off and leaving the group behind. But after I got into the groove of the pace, I enjoyed chatting with other riders and looking at the beautiful houses and scenery. Even road biking doesn’t have to be fast to be enjoyable!

But it does have to be relatively car free to be enjoyable. As it started getting later in the day and more cars were zooming close by us, I remembered why I haven’t gone for a road ride in over a year. As much as I’m scared of falling on the trails, I’m more scared of getting hit by a car. And that is something I cannot control and definitely not worth the risk.

Hopefully one day in the future, we'll live somewhere that has better road biking. But until then, I'm more than happy just being on the trails learning, practicing, and improving. It was fun being back on the road for the day, but I'm not sure I fit in with roadie/triathlon culture anymore with its competitive nature. But there's so much to mountain biking culture that I've barely scratched the surface, so not sure where I fit in with that either. But really who cares where you fit in? All that matters is that you're having fun with it. And I can say that for surely sure I am!

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Tired brain and tired new muscles

At first, mountain biking tired me out in ways I never expected -- my brain would turn to mush and my legs would turn to jelly even though my quads felt fine. How was this possible considering I was good at mentally pushing myself during long workouts and my legs were strong from all my road riding and running? Well... funny enough, mountain biking requires way more concentration that I was used to during a workout and it uses lots of different muscles than road riding or running. Surprise!

Here's a small sampling of what used to run through my head on a ride:
Okay there's a rock on the left side of the trail and a root in the middle, but the right side looks pretty clear. I'll steer over there. Oh wait now there's a root right in front of me and then a sharp turn into some more roots. Ah a little climb! Darn I'm in the wrong gear, slow climb. Phew made it up, just keep pedaling. Now I'm gaining speed and there's more roots. Quick quick over to the left, avoided that little root, but now there's another one. Maintain speed! Don't grab your brakes! Oops I got scared and confused and tired... I stopped.

Accurate picture of my brain when I was first learning to mountain bike. Image from brainlesstales.com.
You can probably see how this could wear our your brain pretty quickly! There's so much to process on the trail, so if your brain isn't accustomed to it, then it can get overwhelmed and shut down. When you first start mountain biking, it kind of feels like your in a racing video game where you're going so fast and there's so much around and it's all coming at you so fast, so you have to constantly make quick decisions. It's a fun feeling, but gets exhausting. I knew my brain was tired when I'd start to make stupid mistakes and pick silly lines and couldn't get over things on the trail that I could when I'm fresh. 

But the good thing is, your brain adapts to riding on trails and you no longer need to think about every little root and rock and turn. This comes with lots and lots and lots of practice and riding. Once you feel comfortable and confident about the little obstacles, they no longer are obstacles, and you can ride over them without even thinking about it. It's really nice when you finally can look around at things off the trail and let your brain wander instead of focusing all your mental energy on what's right in front of you. It takes a while, but it's so worth it!

Okay on to those pesky new muscles...
During my first rides, I would get so tired I could barely pedal, but the normal big muscles in my legs would feel fine and I wouldn't even feel tired cardiovascularly. I couldn't figure out what was going on until I realized that I must be working new muscles. With road riding and road running, it's very repetitive motions where you use the same muscles over and over, so those get really strong, but there are lots more muscles that aren't used. Now enter mountain biking where one second you're pedaling easily and the next you're standing up to go over some roots then have to put all your strength into a quick climb, then stand on the way down to maintain control and speed. So many different movements! So much more balance needed! So many new muscles to get sore!

One of the cool things about mountain biking is that it's truly a full body workout. You're using your arms to lift the bike over roots and rocks. You're using your core all the time to stabilize every little movement. And obviously you're using you're legs, but it's also your whole lower body, butt to toes.

Also mountain biking is pretty much a non-stop interval workout. I've never been a sprinter. I just don't think I have fast twitch muscles. To other people, my "sprint" is almost unperceivable. But mountain biking is full of all these mini sprints in the form of climbs and getting back up to speed if you loose it all after a turn or over roots. This just added to the overall soreness of my beat up legs.

As with your brain adapting, your legs do too. They get stronger in ways you never imagined. I remember riding along one day not too long ago and I realized that I was finally gaining endurance for mountain biking. It feels so amazing! When one lap of the trail used to knock me out for the day, now three is pretty standard.

So when you go out on your first few rides and you're getting frustrated that you're so tired, it's probably from your brain and all your newfound muscles. And it's completely normal. But keep at it because they're not permanent feelings. All it takes is a little (just kidding, a lot) of practice!

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