Friday, February 26, 2016

Monster Cross Finally Happens.

Every year Monster Cross rolls around and every year I talk myself out of it. A 25 or 50 mile race on technical and steep fire roads in February? Where do I hide? I'd managed to avoid it in past years but this year I was out of excuses and in the midst of Great Blizzard of '16 cabin fever I signed up for the 25 mile option.

Then I did nothing. I did not go scout the course. I did not train. I did not really think much about it. I did get in one long ride a week and a few trainer classes but I mostly just pretended like it wasn't happening. The weekend before race weekend when I should've done a course pre-ride, the high was in the 20s and I was like, nope. Not going to ride my bike.

Thankfully, race weekend was unseasonably warm so I didn't have to worry about layering misery upon misery. It didn't matter much, though. I'd been having a rough week - doctor appointments, canceled plans, some personal angst that I hadn't worked out yet. February is generally a very low month for me and the idea that I'd have to spend my Sunday morning racing my bike was incredibly unappealing.

But, I did it. Saturday I had a fun, easy mountain bike ride with my friend Lisa. I ate a healthy dinner, packed up my bike stuff, oiled my chain and went to bed early. Race morning found me lined up with nearly 600 other people, most of us in glorious short sleeves and bare legs.

Monster Cross is enormously popular because there's really not much else going on in February and racers want something to do. I mostly wanted to be eating breakfast in bed, but okay. I'm here and so are all of my cycling friends. I started to perk up.

I am generally pretty set on my race prep but at the last minute I threaded my ear buds under my jersey and clipped my ipod shuffle on. I never, ever listen to music on my bike but this was a long race for me and I thought it might help me keep my pace up. It was a solid decision.

The 50 miler pros started. The 50 miler non-pros started. Then the 25 mile "mini" Monster started. I was near the front and got a good start but I hadn't really warmed up, figuring that would be what I'd use the first 3-4 miles for. It wasn't a bad plan exactly, but it's hard when you get passed by the nine year old boy, by the guy on the fat bike, by the older dude with his t-shirt tucked into his spandex shorts. I wasn't racing any of those people, but it still stung a little.

For a while I paced a couple of the other women. I'd pass them, then they'd pass me. Back and forth. Eventually I dropped them and was pretty much on my own for a good 10-15 miles. I passed some guys, a few guys passed me. It was peaceful in the woods and my music was motivating and I felt...good. I felt good! I love this! I love my bike and I don't really mind climbing this long-ass paved hill. I just settled in. I listened to my music. All was good. Then out of nowhere the two women I'd passed miles back shot past me like I was standing still. Ugh. I knew I wasn't in contention for any kind of podium spot but I definitely picked up the pace a bit after that.

For a good portion of the second half I traded spots with the leader in the unicycle category. Yes, there is a unicycle category. It's masterful and terrifying watching them fly downhill on a single, giant wheel with a fixed gear. No way, man. I'd chosen to ride my mountain bike instead of my cyclocross bike which was definitely the right choice for me. Some of the descents were quite technical and the creek crossings were deeper and muddier than I was expecting. I'm much more confident on fat tires. (But I prefer two of them. Those unicycle peeps are crazy.)

The best part was mile 5-15. I was feeling pretty solid overall and pacing myself decently. The race organizer Mark had warned us that most of the climbing was in the last nine miles and I was waiting for it. The course eventually looped behind the main parking lot and through a field that lead to the bridge that would take us to the other side of the park and the final grueling five miles. As I headed to the bridge my Shuffle started playing London Bridge:

Oh shit (oh shit)
Oh shit (oh shit)
Oh shit (oh shit)
Oh shit (oh shit)
Are you ready for this?
Oh shit (oh shit)

I cracked up. If ever there was an appropriate time for that ridiculous song it was at that exact moment. I crossed the field laughing my ass off and I'm sure the people watching thought I'd lost my mind. I crossed the bridge and headed for... the hardest part. I had my Garmin on so I could see the mileage and man, that last five miles took FOR. EVER. My quads were cramping so I was terrified if I stopped pedaling I wouldn't be able to start again. My saddle, which I'd never loved, was now enemy #1. In short: my ass hurt. My legs hurt. I was ready for it to be over. 

Somewhere in there I found my friend Russ who'd been sidelined with a flat. He got on my wheel and we trudged out the last few grueling miles together. Finally, finally, I was back across the bridge and heading up the steep paved hill towards the finish. Final time: 2:10 and I came in 13th out of 29 women. I was pretty happy with that considering I didn't train for it. (That's not to say I didn't race it - I pushed hard but I definitely wasn't as fit as I could've been.) It set a baseline for me, though, so next year I can hopefully beat that time and place higher. We'll see. 

Favorite moments: 

  • Singing along to Salt n Pepa's Shoop while climbing the long paved road. It helped.
  • Seeing how well my teammates did. For one this was her first race and she placed 11th! My teammate Amy came in 3rd, which was well-deserved. 
  • Being called "baby girl" by the parks employee who was directing riders across the road. She made my day.
  • Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken's excellent post-race meal. Lee's is a supporter of my cycling team and I was SO happy to have that chicken and mac 'n cheese. And there was beer. That didn't hurt either. 

Eventually the warm, overcast weather gave into rain and it was time to pack up and go home. A really good day, and just what I needed to get my head on straight again. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: GapFit Leggings.

I used to be a Lululemon girl, not because I spent my days faffing about in yoga pants but because that stuff used to last FOREVER and the fit was great. Those days are long gone and now every time I am considering dropping a chunk of money on Wunder Unders I just read the bad reviews and crab scramble out of there. They still have interesting patterns and cute colors but I've been leaning towards Altheta and Lucy more and more. AND, you guys, Gapfit has been killing it lately. I bought these recently:

GapFit gFast Jacquard Legging

They are SO GOOD. These are cold weather tights that are brushed on the inside so they're warm and thick. they're so cute that even the guys at my CrossFit gym love them and say they'd wear them if they made them for dudes. Heh.

But they don't just look cool, they perform well. They don't slide down and are completely opaque. They definitely FIT (meaning, if you're between sizes, go up a size) and they are a bit long on me, so really good for the taller ladies. 

I also tried a few other pairs from GapFit.  This pair of Brushstroke leggings looks cool but I wasn't crazy about the skinny waistband (I like a thick wide waistband) and in a size small they definitely went a bit sheer on me. I think they'd have been better if I'd sized up. I did size up with the fun Twist Print legging and they're a bit too big. They're more of a runner's legging with a wide waistband and inner drawstring so I think I can make them work. I love the red racing stripe! 

So, sizing is a bit hit-or-miss but overall the quality of GapFit is really good and with the 40% off (code GREAT) and 2.0% cash back with eBates they're an amazing bargain. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Cyclebox Review!

I feel like I just got my last box so I was surprised and delighted to find my winter Cyclebox waiting for me on my doorstep. As per usual, it was full of interesting snacks and stuffs and I managed to photograph before I ate (most of) it:

Missing from the photo is a package of Crispy Fruit freeze-dried Asian pears which I ate even though I think freeze-dried fruit is weird. It's tasty but the texture is so odd! It's a nice low-cal snack for when you just want to put something in your pie-hole. 

Here's the whole spread! I'm pretty excited about the little gingerbread Chuao chocolate (so tasty!) and I've been wanting to try the Mad Alchemy Pro+ chamois cream, so that is definitely welcome. The Purely Elizabeth pumpkin fig cereal will be perfect to take to work when I need a mid-morning snack. I'm also really happy with the fleece ear warmer headband! That'll be great for crossfit runs. Ugh, winter. 

RunnerBox is available in three varieties - Runner, Tri and Cycle. They come every other month and subscriptions are available from four months. Aside from the bimonthly subscription they also offer gift boxes.  Plus, right now they're offering buy one, get one subscriptions with code GIVE2GET. 

Disclaimer: I am a CycleBox Ambassador. I have not received compensation for my review (aside from the box) and my opinions are my own. I'd never endorse a product I didn't truly like and use!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

And, The Other Cross Thing I Do.

#Crossishere! Okay, for me it's over but despite being an oddly condensed season it was a really good one. For my second season I competing in six races and was on the podium for four of those.

Last year I competed in nine races and was on the podium for three of those which was pretty good considering I just jumped into it without training or having any idea what the hell I was doing. I started out pretty strong but my fitness took a nosedive as the season progressed and I ended up fourth overall in my category (mostly because I did a lot of races.) This year I did a lot of things differently and ended up 2nd overall, which I'm really proud of:

Yay! So, here's the thing. It turns out that the people who are good at a sport are usually good at it because they work their asses off. I was lucky to be part of a group training plan for my bike team that initially freaked me out because when you aren't a roadie and have never trained with a heart rate monitor or cadence/power etc, it's a LOT of information and a damn steep learning curve. This year I learned how to ride on the road and how to train and how to use heart rate zones and that I pedal too hard when I should be pedaling faster and lighter instead. Woof. 

But in list form, here's what helped make me a better athlete this year:

- Become a Roadie. I will admit that I'm never going to love road riding as much as mountain biking, but for building endurance, it's boss. I don't have a road bike but I have a separate set of inexpensive road wheels for my cross bike. Not ideal, but it works. I'm still working on my fear of being run over by a car. Babysteps.

- CrossFit. I've already talked about how CrossFit helped make fitter overall which I needed because a lot of cyclocross is stuff like running up a steep set of stairs while carrying a bike. (See pic above.) Whee! I'm really selling it aren't I? 

- Buy a Trainer. I bought this trainer at the beginning of the season and I hate it like poison but when I need to do a training ride on a dark night when it's pouring down rain? I can now do that at home in front of the TV. I also took my trainer to races and used it to warm up which was a pain in the ass but SO worth it. Going cold into a sprint race, which is basically what I did last year? That is a really bad idea. Doing a proper warm up made a HUGE difference in how I raced. 

- Be Really Boring. Go to bed early, eat your vegetables and protein, don't drink booze the night before a race. Can you hear that sound? That's my social life dying. If you're 23 and in good shape you can probably skip this advice but I'm 43 and I have to go to bed now. 

Other little things that helped me:

Gu Salted Caramel

I have one of these about half an hour before the race because it gives me energy without having to deal with solid food on a nervous stomach. And this flavor doesn't make me gag, which is high praise for a gel.

Stinger Waffle

I have one of these after a race because they're delicious. Really, any treat will do, but an over-priced bike cookie just tastes better. 

Contigo Byron

I bought this because it promised to keep my coffee hot for up to 7 hours and it's really nice to come back to your car shivering after a race and remember that you have hot coffee waiting. This seems really basic but little details can make a difference.

Craft Active Extreme Base Layer

Have I mentioned how much I like Craft base layers? I can't mention it enough. They're great, you should buy one. There are usually some good deals to be had at Amazon, which is where I got mine. There's a good price here for the mesh summerweight sleeveless shirt. I wore my short sleeve base layer under my long sleeved jersey and was able to skip wearing a jacket this race season. I'm generally an over-dressed cyclist so I've had to learn that it's better to be a little cold at the starting line because once you heat up you'll regret that jacket deeply.

Doesn't this look FUN? 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Review: Fall CycleBox

Yay! My CycleBox arrived. Okay, it arrived a while ago but it takes me a little time to test things out and I like to give an informed opinion. Daniel also needed to give his approval:

Missing from the above picture are the WB Kitchen products because I ate them almost immediately. I was given the Peanut Ginger bar and the Maple Pecan cookies and they were REALLY good. By far my favorite thing in the box! Very simple ingredients, no funny stuff and really delicious. You can see one of them here: 

And then it was gone. I miss them. This box is full of other good stuff - healthy snacks, sport gummi candy, and gels. Adding huge value to the box is the full-size bottle of Proferrin Sport iron supplement which I've been taking (retails for $34.95!) and a 4oz bottle of Pedro's Foaming Bike Wash (retails for $12) which will come in handy once I actually get off my lazy bum and use it. I like Pedro's products in general and was happy to see this. Now, who wants to come over and clean my bike? 

RunnerBoxes are available in three varieties - Runner, Tri and Cycle. They come every other month and cost $19.95 plus shipping. Aside from the bimonthly subscription they also offer gift boxes and right now there's a limited edition Pepper Palace Pro Cycling box! Very cool!

Disclaimer: I am a CycleBox Ambassador. I have not received compensation for my review (aside from the box) and my opinions are my own. I'd never endorse a product I didn't truly like and use!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

All The Cross Things.

So! Cyclocross season is finally underway and I have my second race this Sunday. My first race went pretty well (3rd place) but damn, I forgot how HARD racing is. It's so hard! Cyclocross races are 30 minute sprints with some technical sections that require running/hill climbs/jumping over barriers while pushing or carrying your bike. Oof.

But, you know what has made that better? My other cross - CrossFit. CrossFit is still going well and it's lots of fun (except when it's not) and the running, broad jumping and burpees have helped so much with the non-cycling parts of cyclocross. Also, sometimes you're forced to dress up like a superhero and shut up David Bowie is too a superhero:

ANYWAY. I had a reader request that I talk about what I wear for CrossFit. Gladly! First, here's a list of stuff I've bought since I started CrossFit:

Foam Roller. My own personal painful massage tool.

- Lacrosse Ball. More painful massage. This is especially good for smushing your shoulder muscles into submission. And feet! And calves! Ow.

Jump Rope. I read somewhere that in order to master double-unders you should have your own rope. So far this has not proven true but any day now, you guys.

Inov-8 F-Lite 195. These are amazing, you guys. I got my pair on sale from Sierra Trading Post as linked (though has good prices as well) and they're a game-changer for CrossFit. Something about the flat, sticky sole makes me feel much more stable when I'm lifting heavy and they're super light-weight. They're also great for short runs and whatever other craziness your WOD throws at you. Plus they're wicked cute. Definitely check them out.

Inov-8 F-Lite 195

As for clothing? I go to a small CrossFit box that isn't all crazy buff women in booty shorts and Lulu bras. (Not that there's anything wrong with that other than it sounding SUPER intimidating.) I find that I prefer wearing tight fitting capris (these are a favorite) or shorts (love these for the high waist) and wicking t-shirts or tanks. I generally prefer more boob coverage because I hate doing wall walks or squats and feeling like I'm flashing the room. Sometimes if we're not doing something super-sweaty I'll just wear a regular t-shirt which is something I thought I'd never do at the gym again.

I still like Lululemon for the fashion-forward designs (though it's really hit or miss and I fear their quality is never going to be what it was) but Under Armour has come out as a surprising favorite - it's not too expensive and the fit is great. I bought this UA "Fly By" tank at the beginning of summer and was really pleased at how well it performed. 

On a final note, if you're doing CrossFit or thinking about it or just want a fun new fitness-related podcast to listen to on your commute, check out Girls Gone WOD. I have been listening to all their back episodes and it's highly entertaining. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

The World is HERE.

I've been super lame about updating this of late but there's been a lot going on. Cyclocross training for one, but much more importantly, the Road World Championships is being held in my hometown this week! It's completely surreal and I can't even wrap my head around it. It used to be that nothing good ever happened here and now it feels like EVERYTHING is happening here and it's really become a cycling destination. I mean, Paul Sherwen is talking about Richmond! Eep. We're all geeking out hard. I've been posting bits and pieces of it on Instagram:

Team Astana

Lupus Racing Team

To keep things on (blog) topic I should mention that I bought these stars and stripes Defeet socks because I thought my sock game should be tight for Worlds:

My teammate Paula's cool color block socks are by The Athletic. I totally covet them but I don't want to be a jerk and buy her special socks. Maybe I'll get this pair instead. It's important to have the right socks for the World Championships, don't you know. 

More to come!