Wednesday, October 29, 2008

CC#5 - Astoria in Costume

The PV ladies decided on Bridezilla & the Bridesmaids for this year's theme. Friday afternoon I get an ecstatic call from Brit. She's found The Perfect (tm) Hideous Bridal Gown. She tries it on for me, talks them down $20, and picks it up.

This sums up the day brilliantly. PDXCross

When we woke up it was Windy and Cold. I ate half an over-mixed, chewy, tough waffle from the hotel lobby - and some juice and a banana. At least my head wasn't foggy from the day before.

Matt, the Do Not Trust This Gorton's Fisherman, passed along frozen fish sticks during his race. Then he fish-granaded our tent! Ew! After his race we find the Oatmeal, and that was lunch.

The sun came out, and it got warm. 70, on the coast, in the middle of October? What is this? My trek for sunblock failed, so the costume was altered to include one of my husband's long sleeve UV blocking base layers. My bridesmaids from hell got their costumes ready, then helped me bustle and bustle and bustle to make the dress rideable without cutting. Somehow it fits perfectly, and is crazy over the top with tassles and poufs and bows and beading. (Slide 24 shows Matt and Brit busy with the safety pins. 25 is between stables) I found a Swamp Monster costume in the little boy's section at Target - the hands have open gloves that fit over my cycling gloves, the feet are open on the bottom so I just velcro them around my ankles. The mask - I cut off the eyes, and it sits just over my nose & mouth. I walk my bike to the starting line - many confused faces burst in to laughter as soon as I shout "It's MY Day!" Photos are taken, and the race starts.

My legs feel like lead. This is going to be a slow race, but it's for fun, right? They modified the course a bit from the day before - it is somehow longer and faster, and they removed the first nasty little climb. I do fine my first lap, tho by the end of that the dress starts to snag on remounts. One pin is pulled, and I try to tuck that edge up into my knickers to keep it out of the way. Eventually I make it to the barriers for the second time. I stop, re-pin the dress with hopes that once I make it thru the six-pack that I'll be able to remount and keep going.

I pick up the bike, find some energy and start running over the six barriers. I set the bike down, throw my leg over only to have some Devil jump out of the crowd in front of me.
a) this is NOT the Tour de France
b) you and your costume Aren't That Cool
c) you Aren't being Helpful
and, mostly,
d) GET OUT OF MY WAY! MOVE! I'm pretty sure that was the extent of my yelling at him. My two attempts to remount have failed, and as this is at the base of a climb I have no option but to push the bike up. I get to the top, jump back on, scootch around until the huge bustle is over the back of the saddle and try to scurry across the top of the bumpy hillside. My race gets slower from there.

I continue to fight with the dress. The announcer keeps calling out that the Bride has yet to catch her maids. Another spectator tells me this in the back field, and I inform them that it is MY DAY! He busts up laughing.

The team tent is cheering - at least I'm fairly quick thru that section. Overall, I'm sore. Two days of sensitive chafing are starting to distract, far more so than the struggles with the dress. The right shoulder tears, I reach back and rip it off completely. This happens about 50 feet in front of Matt, so I spin it over my head and toss it to him as I ride past. I hustle to the finish line, coming around the corner hot and crossing the plane at a significant angle - wish I could see That photo.

Matt finds me, unzips the dress and for the first time in 45 minutes I can finally take a full breath. I had no idea how restrictive that was! "You looked great out there!" Good thing - at least that is working for me!

Astoria - Hash Run

Wait - did I just say I was about to go for a Run after that race?

Yes, apparently I am that crazy.

Just what IS a Hash Run? Click thru, and read all about it.

About 20 of us circle up, I'm one of 5 women to start. They describe the run, we wait a good 10 minutes for the Hare to start off, and then we follow. We quickly pick up the trail "On One! On Two! On Three! ON ON!"

This is a true cross country. Over roads, fields, thru forests standing and clear cut, down a steep hillside that is waiting to eat ankles, and a mile later(?) to the first Beer Check. The bag holds Miller Lite. I drink enough to be polite, and feed the rest to the brush as soon as no one is looking. Once the beers are dry, we head off again.

The course is full of False trails - long ones. We regroup frequently, we've only lost one person - but then, starting a run in rubber boots isn't the best idea. I have no idea how far we're running - but I have to ignore the side stitch, and keep up with the group because I'm lost out here. We scamper thru the forestry center's field of evergreen. No sunlight hits the ground, dead and scratchy thin branches start about 3feet up, and the entire group is running bent over to avoid the worst of it. The trees are a perfect grid - lines stretch out from any angle you look - the runners each have selected a different line, creating a maze. It is beautiful and creepy and dark. Out again, down another very steep hillside (at least one that isn't covered in fallen trees and overgrowth) we make it to the second beer check. Very tired - but at least now I can see the tents and cars.

It's Pabst or Ouzo. I take two long shots, as I can't bring myself to hydrate on the blue ribbon. It is deliciously licorice and floral. I meet a girl from Yakima, we start to get chilled, and decide to start up again. We find the first mark, and spread out to find the second. Soon the rest of the group is sweeping behind us, searching for the trail. Eventually it's found, winding us thru a sunken field. Swamp, actually. I'm so glad I have a spare set of shoes back at our tent, as I hop across the tallest tufts of grass to minimize foot soaking or splashing. Uphill is a walk over gravel - I'm tired, and that Ouzo is starting to kick in. Over the footbridge, and we're done. More beer (from a keg, and significantly dark) is handed out. I mingle briefly, say goodbye to Miss Yakima, and head back to the team tent.

I hand Matt the beer - everyone else is gone. I find dry shoes, and we head back to the hotel. We've got enough time for a shower before reservations for dinner at Rogue. Dinner that takes 90 minutes to arrive once ordered. No more beer for me (okay, a few sips of a couple of my favorites) and the buzz lasts all night. We're visited the Palin triplets, they try out their schtick and are somehow displeased that it didn't earn them any beer. We attempt to crash a party - but it's already broken. Pretty soon we just head back to the hotel, to the small bed in the dark room and cling to sleep.

Tomorrow will be fun!

CC#4 - Astoria

Friday night - a drive out to the coast, the setting sun enhancing the brilliant yellow trees bursting thru the evergreen like fireworks. It is gorgeous. This can't be October in Oregon. We quickly unload into our hotel room, relax, and meet up with team mates for some dinner and/or dessert.

Saturday starts cold and overcast. Things look good on the warmup lap. I cheer for Matt, yelling and screaming as he works the course. More PV folk arrive, our tent is full. The double bamboo bike stands are full. Our two change tents stand like beacons, side by side, hosting those changing into or out of their cycling gear.

I attempt a hamburger for lunch, and it is by far the worse piece of over-frozen low grade meat product I've ever attempted to eat. Even bacon and mounds of ketchup can't save it. Two bites and it's tossed... I'm racing with very poor fuel reserves.

I wait thru the lineup, only moderately nervous. Sure, I have the false sense that I need to pee, but none of the nearly-vomiting sensations from last week. We line up, and eventually race off.

They've extended the course since this morning, and fixed a corner. We start out on pavement, turn right over a packed down pile of sawdust onto grassy dirt that quickly dips down to the right. The course meanders - follow the leader - thru a very bumpy field before returning to a quick barrier and climb. I remount, and power up passing those who are walking or remounting at the top. It is a brutal seated climb. Fans cheer like mad - they love watching the pain.

A quick left, and it is in and between and thru a series of 2.5 horse stables - fortunately empty. It is dark inside, bright outside, with sharp turns in between. At one point I tired out, missed the turn and managed to stop, catching the corner of the next stable with my hand to hold me up. It was a slow and silly mistake, very un-pro. However, I didn't crash.
After the stables was climb #2. There was hardly time to recover, and you're climbing a rocky, grassy, bumpy, steep hillside. Lap one, manageable. Laps 2, 3, (4?) were a bit more painful. Across the top of the filed, down a swift and swooping decent. As we come around the back end of the turn, the rider in front of me goes down. Hard. I see yellow and blond and bike and legs and arms in front of me, and I have no where to go. I'm on the inside of the lane with a huge wooden stage to my left, her body on my right. I try to slow up, to sneak thru, but my outside foot catches her on the way thru. "SHIT! SORRY!" I shout over my shoulder. I'm upright - I hope she's okay - I keep riding. I found her after the race - she's okay, and didn't even notice that I hit her too. (Perhaps some pre-ride imbibing assisted?)

Odd little angles, around the trees, double back around a shed and over 6 barriers to reach the lower portion of the hill we just climbed. The bumpy, hard, exhausting hillside. You can't take it slow. You have to power thru - because that is the only thing that will smooth out the ride. Push harder, onto a breif stretch of pavement, in and out, around and thru the show barn, and back for the start of lap 2.

The bumps are exhausting. Probably more so than the climbing, definitely more than running the barriers. By lap 3, I give up on my race. I hop the solo barrier at the base of the hill. I'm walking my bike, standing very upright in my posture because my lower back has started to seize. I take the entire hill as a recovery, ignoring the fans, ignoring the number of women who are passing me. I finish my lap, finish my race, and wonder how I managed to finish 29th.

Back at the tent, my team is whooping it up for the ladies that are slowly returning. I change, dig out a beer, and put it down fairly quickly. Matt's Russian Imperial Home Brew. 11%, 22 oz, and I think I gave away about 6 of those. Within 20 minutes of finishing, Running Man stops by the tent to announce the start of the Hash Race. I want this. I want to run. I grab my stuff, jump into the change tent, and find my way to the start. Am I crazy?

Bridezilla & the Bridesmaids

Just a quick teaser from Astoria's race... still trying to figure out how to sum up the weekend.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fighting it

Work. Cubicle land. A sea of cloth covered foam suspended by dingy gray steel frames is all that separates me from the coughing, sneezing, miserable variety of bugs and viruses and germs that people insist on bringing to work. If the person next to me isn't actively coughing, then they're tell me about some awful crap their kids are sick with, and how quickly it has spread thru their playgroup/preschool/family.

I'm trying to convince myself that I can beat this lingering sore throat - that it's just from the cool air at night. But it's 8:45am and I want a nap... and I have a feeling the right blanket would keep me down for a full 3 hours.

Monday, October 20, 2008

CC#3 - Dread & Lessons Learned

Gear: think you have it dialed in? See a forecast that is exactly like last week, and decide to leave the cold weather gear at home? Suffer. It was cold, overcast, and cold well in to the afternoon. Sitting around in the team tent does nothing but build cold - keep moving. That advice to bring more than you think you could possibly need? Priceless.

Preride: A good course. A quick dip into the grasslands, I imagine this would be a bog with a small amount of rain. Some severe bumps, dismount, bridge, bumps, then smooth small climb into a flat field. Backwoods turns, intense little climbs, out and around thru the playground, swooping turns, a set of 6 barriers, a big swooping downhill to the base of The Climb. Spin up it, break traction as soon as I get out of the saddle so I sit back down. Hm.. that wasn't too bad. Oh - it isn't over - a long driveway climb follows the gravel, and I'm sucking very cold wind by the time I reach the top. Left onto dirt, thru the trees and over a dozen roots. A gradual downhill, gravity pulls you forward into another big swoop, off camber grass, around the tree, and back to the team tent. Okay, I can do this. Yay, the oatmeal tent is up! Breakfast part 2.

Waiting: Cheer for Matt. I position myself on the field where I can cheer for him post-barriers then run over to the top of the Climb to cheer some more. Lap 1? He falls at the bottom of the climb, there's a little tangle up and then he's back, running up. Dusty, but seems okay. I yell for him. I yell for the other 3 of our guys that are on course - this is a good place to watch. Next lap and his knee is pretty bloody - I think he's gone down again, but he hasn't. I get back to the tent and wait and wait for him to return - he was at the medic's tent, and probably freezing without a jacket. The next race starts, and the next. I eat a sandwich around 11:30. I'm hanging out in the tent, it's cloudy & foggy & cold. Someone finds a wool blanket, and I wrap it around me like a dress.

Pretty soon we see women doing a preride, and the trainers are being set up. Matt get's my gear ready, and I get on the bike. It's sloping downhill a bit. Yikes these guys keep getting faster! Everyone is talking about how the course is getting quicker as the lines smooth out. The more I hear it, the more nervous I get. I try to focus on my music, focus on spinning my legs, focus on getting my heart rate up.. and I just get more nervous. Stomach is doing a dance that makes me dizzy. I can't sit here. I dismount, give up on a warmup, and change the music to something soft, calm. It doesn't really help.

We make our way to the staging area, waiting the callups that will help keep us organized. It takes significantly longer for the women, as there are 6 categories to organize, vs the usual 2 or 3 for the men. I pull up to the starting shute, outside left on a small grassy slope. My gearing is good. I am straddling the top tube, resting on it as we wait. Sherry is behind me - she looks as green as I feel. My legs are shaking, I feel like an overexcited whippet, and wonder if I have the strength not to pee on myself.

Finally the race starts. We intersect The Climb, starting on the pavement section. I pass Britt on the way up, call out to her. By the time I reach the trees, my legs are heavy, burning, slow, and I want to quit right there. There is lots of traffic, so we sit in and follow the leader. A few bold women pass quickly on our left. We're out, around the tree, thru the field and suddenly the bumpy terrain before the barrier is eating people. Early dismount, gingerly picking our way thru the grass so as not to roll an ankle. Many try to remount early, I jog past, set the bike down on the flat and remount. Climb the tiny section of gravel, hope that I didn't just hit that sharp rock sicking out of the ground, and I'm out, a smooth dirt path along the back fence and soon I'm in the trees. Tired, but the nerves have settled. I know I can do this section. Dodge the woman who fell to my right. Dodge the woman who's stalling out on my left. Past the women who are struggling to dismount and push their way up the little climb. I ride up the middle, I'm sucking wind but it's much warmer than this morning. I keep going - even if my legs are spinning slow, they're spinning. Playground, done. Oh yeah, a quick but rough downhill that rattles my bike - I cross my fingers that my chain stays on - and it's up to the barriers. Dismount and.. well, I kinda try to jog, but end up walking. Fast women are passing, I'm pretty sure some of these are As. Down the slope "No Brakes!" they cry and I oblige. I zoom past intimidated others. Team mates are at the bottom, they cheer me on like wild.

Matt is there - shouting cheering, encouraging me up. I climb the left side, the same side he took on his first lap. I am upright. The path in front is clear, the right side bogged by riders and walkers. I make it up, tired. How many more times will I need to do this? Mind is reaching for reasons to give up, but my goal is just to finish. By the time I reach the roots, I'm so tired that I hit them slow and hard. There is no recovery on this stretch, and we're being passed like mad now. Around again, walk over the barrier, walk over the bridge, slowly along the fence where I'm hoping I get lapped so I only have to do this 3 times. Thru the backwoods, again climbing my way thru. I'm tired. I'm so very tired, I trudge over the 6 barriers. Okay, downhill I can coast.. I think I'll just run up the hill - there are lots of people on both sides, so I go right. And I run up that rocky beast - I'm flying up it, passing so many people. Matt and Kenji are whooping it up like I'd just won a million bucks, and finally I summit. There's nothing left. I'm out of gas, out of air, and have to figure out how to restart my bike uphill. Matt is shouting at me to get going, but I can't. I take a few seconds to catch my breath, pick a line that will allow me to remount, and then go. By the time I roll past the finish line I'm probably making 7 mile per hour. It feels so slow, and I'm worried about my finish. Running was a mistake.

Around again. No recovery over the roots, flying down, past the team tent, past Ironclad's "way to go Traci!" thru the field. More A's are passing - must be the second time they're lapping me. "On yer Left" she barks. "Right." She's getting closer. "Passing Left." She has room, I move right a touch, but she still buzzes past me, as if she wants the exact line I'm on and will take it - never mind there are 6 feet to the left of me And the primary, smooth path to take. Whatever. I walk over the bridge, and try to go just a little faster. Onto the path with the fence, and I hear Matt shout that Britt is right behind me, to work together. I have no idea how to do that in a race like this. Another woman passes, a little slower. "I like your socks" she tells me. "Yeah, but they aren't making me fast today." She chuckles "I have the same ones!" as she rolls by. "Go get'em!" Most of us are friendly. We get out of eachother's way, we call out encouragement, shout-out to our team mates. "Go Ironclad!" I call as she passes me. See? We're so damn supportive. I'm sensing the end of the race. I am hopefull. I grunt my way up the backwoods climbs, on one shouting to the women ahead of me to keep moving because I'm not stopping. Grunting, ugly face, digging deep to power over the peak. I'm thru. They're still figuring out the top an the remount and I keep going. "Good Job, You're almost done!" I threaten to come back and find that spectator if she's wrong.

Thru the playground, and once more I walk over 6 barriers. The crowd can sense it's the end, they want to see speed, hunger, and effort. I don't have it. I take two jogging steps and my head is spinning. That's why I'm walking. I pause for half a second before I push to remount, and the woman behind me falls. I probably caused it, but I can't stop to help her up. I fly down the hill, I'm hungry for the climb. One more time, it's got to be the last time. Matt is pacing me, running up the hill as I spin up it, somehow effortlessly. Even the little tick at the top - just one little grunt and I'm over and my legs are hungry. I crush it, I start passing women left and right and my hopes are confirmed - this is the finish. I push a little harder, pass one last woman, make sure she doesn't chase, and it's done.

I'm done. I'm so tired, again I want to vomit. I coast thru the parking lot, circle around and find the team, head down on arms crossed over the handlebars, each one of us exhausted. It was glorious. Britt finished just behind me - now I want to figure out how to use team tactics so next time I can help her, and know what I'm doing.

I'm looking for Matt - I made him promise to find me hot food so I wouldn't miss out. I run into another Matt, holding an apple and I nearly rip it from his hands. Two big bites, the best apple I've ever tasted. He points me to where My Matt is, waiting with a hot hamburger in his pocket. I take a bite - too early - I nearly revolt. He cheers for me, he's so excited! Kenji is there, they are both telling me how good I looked out there. I don't feel it. I can't admit that - I don't feel strong. I know how much I slacked off, away from the crowds. I know how much I slacked off, not training at all during the week. That needs to change.

But I finished. I had a strong finish, I didn't fall, and I'm surrounded by a team of remarkable people on a feild of remarkable good will and comraderie. I overcame my nerves, the dread of a fast course, the dread of riding thru the trees, the dread of a very long climb. I want to restore the spring in my step when it comes to barriers. I need the hunger to go quickly, to push it, to pass more than pass me. It's only 45 minutes - the body is capable of doing amazing things for just 45 minutes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another cooking rant & recipe

Who started the Onion lobby, and how was s/he able to get Onions into every non-sweet dish on earth?

I was never an onion fan. Growing up, they were overused in the bulk dried onion form. Gross much? I married an onion hater, and edited them out of our diet. Now, we're slowly coming back around to accepting onions in Certain things, and cooked fully. Raw onions? Heartburn and stink. But take a look the next time you start going thru recipes, and notice just how many ask for onion of one kind or another. Even Mac and Cheese. Seriously.

This is the easiest, most flexible, tastey, one pot Mac I know. But then, I love the soft, not-baked not-casserole version. It's adapted from the back of Pasta Barilla Elbows - and true enough, the original recipe has onions. Bleh! If you like your mac served as a square cut from a casserole with a crispy top, I'm sure you've got the mad skills to take this one step further. Enjoy!

mac & E-Z

Large sauce pan, medium heat
Melt 1 heavy Tbsp butter
Add enough flour to make a roux
mix until nice & nutty. Skip this, and your pot boils over.

stir in
2 cups (8oz dry) Elbows
3 cups milk
simmer, stirring frequently - this is a bowl of milk boiling away
Half way thru, add a little flavor - I like white pepper

Once the liquid is mostly absorbed, the pasta should be done.
Remove from Heat
Toss in shredded cheese.
What kind? Any kind!
It doesn't take a lot, but it can handle as much as you want.

Tillamook Cheddar
Dubliner White cheddar
Monterey Jack
Pepper Jack
Jack and Feta
Cheddar and Parm
or your favorite 5 cheese blend

that's it. one pot, no drain, done. And no onion!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who is on Your Shelf?

My cookbooks live in a tiny cupboard in our nook. From the ol' Good Housekeeping to sentimental souvenirs from our east coast sabbatical, to healthy/diet books, to bachelor oriented cooking, to magazines, to focused areas like desserts or break making or spices, they sit side by side. Waiting for desperation or specific need to call them to action. Some are reference books (how long to roast a squash?) and others are gifts. Some are a treasure chest of ideas, others stick around for one or two faithful stand-bys.

I also have an embarassing stack of recipes, hand written, passed down, torn out of magazines, photocopied by friends, that live in a drawer next to napkin rings and linens. Mostly holiday cookies, but if I'm looking for something particular I pretty much know if it's in that pile, and if so, what the paper looks like. Some of my favorites are taped to the inside door of the spice cupboard, ready to use as soon as I open the door.

But mostly, I now cook by experience. As we transition to fall, I'll do a rotation of stir fry, stew, soups, pasta, pot pies, baked meat & potato, maybe taco or pizza night. These are where I'm at ease, I can chop and cook and eat and enjoy.

I try to introduce new recipes, try new produce, or try them in new ways. I find food fads interesting and inspiring - in this way I found parsnips, a new seasonal favorite. Or sea salt, one that I just.. don't... get.


As I prepped an acorn squash to roast, I reached for a can of sea salt from the cupboard. Yep, another foodie fad. But really, one I just can't get in to. This stuff looks like rock salt, and the last time I tried it, it ruined the dish - even with a very small portion. Which realy infuriates me when I see recipes that call for added salt, or cooking advice talking about seasoning everything. Season your pasta water! Season the sauce! Season the end product! Do any of these cooks realize just how much salt they're adding to their food?! Maybe I'm just a salt snob because I Have to be. 1500mg per day is my limit - anything beyond really is dangerous, and painful to boot. So all of my meals, all of my cooking, has adjusted around this need. And you know what? The food isn't bland. It's possible to cook without adding salt, or very little where needed, and still have delicous, tasteful food. Yes, Soups, even Thanksgiving dinner can be accomplished.
(step down)

What are my favorite cookbooks? I used The Schwarzbein Principle Cookbook for soups, and occasionally sides. Good Housekeeping for fact checking (roasts, and... roasts.) City Tavern cookbooks by Staib for hearty, old fashioned meals. Google and Blogs for inspiration, and all the others for browsing and menu planning. Favorites are marked up, tagged, the index is highlighted when I find winners - these usually are memorized, unless like carribean jerk they require too many ingredients / portions / steps. Mostly, I cook by memory...

Tomato Basil Soup

Heat crushed garlic & about 1 tsp celery seed in olive oil in a large stock pot.
Add a little thyme if you want some heat.
Add 2 chopped carrots, saute till tender.
Add 2 cans crushed tomato, low sodium
1/2 - 1 package sundried tomatoes, chopped
One 4c package of low sodium chicken broth (pacific foods)
2 or 3 stems of basil, torn up
about 1/4 tsp salt (only if all items above are low sodium)
fresh ground white or black pepper to taste

Simmer till heated thru, hit with blender stick.

Serve... with cream, over cheese, with additional basil, all optional
Great with feta cheese pizza pockets, or grilled cheese, or...
Left overs work great in an Italian soup or on pasta

What are your favorites?

And then there was pain

I knew it would hurt. I knew the bruise would be epic. I didn't expect a second bruise on the same leg, on the inside of the knee. Sitting hurts. The blankets on my bed are heavy when I roll over - they hurt. Moving my legs at all hurts. The combination and residual pain in my lower legs, two days of headaches, and a follow on upset stomach kept me home for a day.

So, Wednesday I take a sick day. I sleep in till 10:30. I watch a movie, nap, and pretty much do nothing. By 9pm and many ibuprofen later, the headache subsides.

This morning I woke up sunny, happy, and feeling a million times better. But the welt & bruise are still epic.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

CC#2 - 45 minutes of Insanity

5am - I'm awake. Roll over try to fall back asleep, repeatedly.

6:30am - finishing my breakfast of oatmeal with pecans and pumpkin butter, coffee. Let the dogs out, turn on the crock pot, pack the car.

7:15am - on the road. Soft pink striations break up the periwinkle sky. Hood's shadow the only dark area on the horizon, despite the few rain drops that hit the windshield. I'm calm enough to notice this. My stomach isn't doing gymnastics on me.

8am - sign in, unload our stuff at the tent, welcome the rest of the team as they show up shortly behind us. Preride - are you kidding me?! From the tent we ride around a tree, bypass the barriers, turn another 180 and face a downhill. A steep downhill. Into gravel. Two people are standing there, analyzing with me. Matt ran down. I'm remembering roller coasters that had this same drop off - but those run smoothly on a track. A few riders roll around, I see them ride it & find my nerve. I clip in, push off, and scoot my ass back as far as I can to keep my weight to the back of the bike. Zoom down, zoom flat thru gravel, and a quick climb out onto pavement. I roll up to Matt, chatting with the OBRA folks. I tell him I rode the drop. "I Rode It!" Adrenaline kicks in, and I'm whooping it up for myself! Hellyeah! Complete a circuit of the course - wonder what I'm thinking? This is a BMX field, they'll kill out here. Get back to the tent, pile on the wool hat and winter jacket. Eat yogurt.

10am - cheer like mad as Matt races. Manage to miss his last lap, must have been distracted by the hot cider I just brought back to the tent.

Hang out with everyone. I'm so much calmer than last week, it's insane. Race after Race starts - we notice the line up begins easily 30 minutes before each race - that's far too long to stand at the line, but we all get out there so we aren't buried in the pack. Cheer for every race.

12:30pm - warm up. I've changed into my kit, put on my jacket and jump on the trainer. The rear cassette on this trainer wheel really doesn't like my derailleur, I have about 2 options behind plus my front chain ring to select from. I do one or two minor intervals, enough to get the heart rate up. Enough to spin and get intense as the songs roll thru my iPhone. Cut it back as soon as my legs indicate that they haven't forgotten the cramping from yesterday's ride.

1...20? I take a couple turns down the streets, and make my way to the lineup. I hug the inside tape, finding the start of the beginner women. Matt and Kenji give me a beer-up. I take a deep swig of Marrionberry Purple Haze, and hold my spot. Introduce myself to.. Laura? Lauretta? Laurelin? Her mantra is "I hate this part." Her second race. We're on the front of the beginners, and I compliment her dragonfly jersey. Sweet. We wait thru the handcrafted bike's one lap expo. We're in the sun, the last of the yellow jackets hover and annoy. Nerves build as we wait.

TWEET! The Women's A's are off. The crowd rolls up. Wait, and then the B's. Two more waves, and there I am. Front row, inside. Matt shouts to Sal "Look! She's Pro! I wish I had a start like this!" I am focused. I am intent. I am staring down 200 yards of road that will determine my starting position. TWEET!

go go go go GO! My legs are spinning like mad, I'm top 3. Left foot still hasn't clipped in, I fumble, and fall back to 4th trying to get the damn clip in. That needs work. We hit the first turn, right hand sharp in to gravel. I'm coming in hot, holy crap, fishtail at least 4 times, but I'm upright and pedal my way out. I want to stop, put both hands in the air and cry "Ta-Daaa!" How did I make it thru that? I have no idea, but I repeat the fishtail-zoiks-omg-i'mstillup! about 8 times the first lap. I must be pushing it hard. Thru Dirt Hill. Down the road, back again. Twisting, turning, lumpy crazy washboard bogga-de-boogadee-bog whumping my body as I push push push. I'm giving up positions, but still going. Hard.

There is a long double track thru the dirt at the top of the hill. Somehow it ends with massive double ruts cutting across the line - there is one path, over the top between the ruts, into a soft pack dirt mogle that you have to take and turn right then fly downhill onto a left hand pavement turn. I survive. This is nuts. What crazy bastard created this course? Up the road, past Ironclad, onto gravel again, turn, thru the trees, downhill again into hairpins and switchbacks and a crazy zag-zigging twist of yarn to moglus to another hairpin onto off-camber hillside to yet another steep drop onto a gravel turn. When will it end?! There's the run up. I coast, dismount, and decide to push the bike up, far right, and find a sweet path up. I pass a couple girls on my way, and remount. As soon as I clip in again I'm at the team tent and they're screaming wild, mad, cheering me on. Around a tree, over the barriers, remount and Whoosh! Down the drop, thru the pit, up onto the pavement and let's do it again.

Only this time, gravity finds me.

I climb thru the first section of Dirt Hill. I descend, into the first (of many) multi-foot drops before a swooping tight turn. My front wheel washes out, my right knee eats gravel as my arms try to keep my face out of the worst of it. Left leg releases quickly, I'm up and pushing the bike and remount and ride. A little slower, a few more women pass me, and we all make room for each other. I yield respectfully, and call out encouragement as they pass. There is a stretch of road where we pass each other going the opposite direction, I see Britt and yell at her to go go go! I manage to spill hard on the wierd one-track to mogul section, having to remount before flying downhill. I saw Heidi, and she was running! OMG no! I tried to shout to Sal that she needs the pit. Ironclad cheering, gravel, trees, gravel and this bike doesn't like to turn and I barely recover to go and run up and PV cheers me on. Next lap, a fall on my left. Sometime after, a fall to the right, wow, grass! So much softer than gravel, but what is going on with my bike? It's noisy and clanging and I crank on the pedals with my hands before remounting and it works. The laps are a blur.

I've been passed by so many girls - now the women with small numbers who are super fast go flying by. Thank goodness, I've been lapped, so I should be done. When I cross the line, I hear a bell, and see 1 to go. My heart sinks, my head drops, my legs turn over slowly. I have to regroup. I have to do this one more time.

I cross the line, look down, and wonder how or when I managed to get into the big chain ring. I tap it down to the small. fail. I tap again. Tap, tap, tap, smash, smash Click! Finally, in the small chain ring. There's the gravel. There's the path thru the bumpy grass and dirt and mud. Try to shift the rear - no reaction. Gah! Steep bumpy downhill and I'll just have to deal. At least it's an easy gear, one I can use on all the tiny, insanely steep climbs.

It's a slow lap. I'm two tenths thru, and I can hear the announcer calling out the race winner. Damn, there really is one to go. A woman passes me, "I think we're supposed to be done!" she calls. "Nope, one to go," I reply, and sigh as she moves past. The crowd has left. The furthest corners only hold a few stragglers. One man dingles his cowbell for me. I'm rolling slow over a hard pack dirt washboard and give him thanks. My Go Go is Gone. I'm tired, but I will finish. I have to. Even tho it's no man's land and I'm alone. I take it slow, I take my lines, I recall all the places I've fallen, and work on staying upright. So close, and then the final run up. I have no idea what happened, but my usual roll up to the right side failed and I'm on the left line, and my bike scoots out from under my and my left outside thigh lands on.. a hunk of concrete? damnit. I roll to my back, my helmet finds the ground and I notice blue sky for the first time all race. The crowd is cheering and concerned, I hear 'You're Okay! oh - Are you okay?!' and I roll over, unclip and pick up the bike to the wildest cheers all day. I throw one hand up in thanks, run up the inside ("that's how it's done!") and remount. Ow. My leg is seriously sore, but I'm so close to the end.

Past the tent, they cheer me on. Around the tree, to the barrier oh crap she just fell in front of me! is she okay? run right run right run right and Jump and run and Jump and remount... "Get out of the way!" Two spectators walk onto the course, I'm not clipped in, I'm tired, sore, pissed, and decide to just run down the hill. Someone shouts that I'll have more fun riding it. "I Know!" but I'm not going to take the time to back up, re-mount, clip in, then ride it down. So I run it, remount then climb out. One last burst of energy up the hill onto the pavement and I drive like stupid to the line. I nearly run over my team mate Kristen as she's walking back to the tent, but I drive on. Done. Finally.

I turn around, see Heidi sitting on the curb. "Are you okay?" She nods, or grunts, or something. "You're really okay?" Finally, a Yes, and I see Matt and crew heading toward us. He takes our bikes, and walks us back. I'm a mess of energy and exhaustion and did you see me?! I can't stop chatting or shaking.

At the tent, it's baby wipes then band-aide wash then neosporin, chased by a 12oz BlackWatch Porter. In about 35 seconds flat. Finally feeling better, tho very sore when I move my left leg. I check in with the rest of the team. One race left that day, and I scream myself hoarse for the A's. Before we leave, I down a 22 of Stone Russian Imperial. By the time we're packing the car, my cough has started, and I can feel the beer kicking in. The drive home? Heated seats, window open, and a nice long nap.

Meatball soup, sourdough rolls, and another micronap listening to football. The gear is washed, the dogs let out.

This was crazy. 25 of 69? Make that 28.

This is cross. I finished with the lead lap.

And I love it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Success, Maintaining, and a Plan

This week I took my dogs for a run. My poor dogs.. I really need to get out with them more. I know my aerobic capacity needs significant improvement, but I ran my whippets in to the ground. I put on my runners, grabbed their leads, and reminded them how it is to run. We walked, jogged, sprinted thru the field up the little mole hill, recovered, and continued to make our path thru the neighborhood. By the time we hit the round-about they were dragging. I told them to go, to run, to keep running, and it kept me going too. We cooled down and made it back to the house. Cardio Interval, with pets. Noice.

This morning I stepped on the scale. It's been static- that same small window of fluctuation that I've been at for the past few months. And somehow, standing there in front of the mirror, I finally made peace with that image, rather than the number on the scale. I'm as small as I've been since high school. I'm buying pants that can be officially called "tiny." Small shirts once again fit, except perhaps for sleeve length. That insulating lump of fat over my belly is shrinking, my limbs are toned. When I stretch, I can start to see definition of ribs or hip bones just under the surface. Don't get me wrong - I'm not about to go skeletal. But to see little markers that have been hidden for so many years? Wow. I did it.

My mind still hasn't completely processed the significance of the transformation. I ran in to an ex-neighbor the other day, one I haven't seen since we moved. And, coincidentally, since before I started seriously Getting Fit. She was in shock, wanted to know how much weight I've lost. Her enthusiastic "Wow! I can Tell!" while flattering, made me regret how much time I spent being not fit, and too fluffy. Many of the items in my closet are large and saggy. The old pants I bought a few years back at Hollister, a jr's 9 that used to sausage my thighs & ass are now droopy. Shopping is kinda fun again, a little thrill when I realize that I need to go even smaller in sizes for what I try on.

So what's next? I've been blog-stalking Sqwigg, Lyle McDonald, Alwyn Cosgrove, and Valerie Waters and trying to figure out what weight training plan will best support my goals. They have great plans, if your goal is body building or red carpet toned. Neither of these are the right fit. Fun, and yes they helped get me to where I'm at.. but not quite right.

Last night I met up with the race team for some weight training advice. The clinic was good, a lot of reinforcement of what I know, some quick fundamentals that I knew but didn't really pay attention to before now, and a plan. A phased plan. An awesome, targeted, phased approach to using weight training to improve my cycling skills. A nugget of gold that running will be an excellent way to work on my cardio capacity. Something I can do, a plan I can follow, a real Training guide.

Weight training. For Cycling. Glee!

Monday, October 6, 2008

CC#1 - the Race

Starting line. Wheels overlapped, cattle horns to my left. Nerves - my legs are shaking. If there is a wreck at the start, it will have been my fault. Breathe.

We go ~ I push the outside corner, contemplate which gears and how hard to push. I estimate top 20 to the first corner - good lines. I take the turn downhill easy outside, work my way right and coast down, hovering out of the saddle, passing the long line of women on my left. Go go go - climb thru the grass, get on to the track and weave thru the trees. Climb out of the woods, out of the saddle, and go left down the meadow. Bumpy, slippery, I get squirly enough that I won't be passed but I stay upright. Hairpin turn is clean, and I push up the left side, passing more women along the way. Couzens cheers me on. Half a lap, and my lungs are working overtime. Past Ironclad. Wait - they're cheering for Me?! Around the bend and "Go PV!" Down past the team tent - they're screaming crazy and I love it.

Back to the rock barrier, and I'm clean, over, and on. Thru to the one clear path in the gravel, around the building and I slow up knowing how quickly I can coast to the tree, and I'll need my speed in check before I get there. Around the tree and done, perfect. Down and around to the runup. Walkup. Whatever, I place my feet intently so I don't eat dirt and slide back down. On the top - too close to the wall and my handlebars rub a few times before I'm on again. Into the bowl, another clean barrier pass. Stutter-hop On, turn turn and round the track, suddenly I'm climbing out and into the muddy hillside. On my hip, unclip get up, and shoulder the bike. There is a backlog of women at the top of the off camber slolem, so I decide to run. I take in a few more places, but the field is never ending.

Over to the block, two barriers, run the corner then mount and push out to the pavement. Hairpin and stairs follow - I take them two at a time, and land at the top where my slowest remount on every lap takes place. Tired.

One more hairpin around the trees, and it's lap two. Slower. Not as crowded. I start to notice how much my hands hurt. Down to the meadow, the jumpy, jarring meadow. So much slower, and I'm being passed on both sides. But no matter where I am on course, I hear them cheer as I pick my lines. A few voices I can identify ~ I zero in on Matt as he shouts advice. I hear others, and have no idea who would be out there calling My name. Britt yells at me on field as we cross paths in the meadow. I return the favor next lap.

My hands are in pain, and I want to give up midway thru lap 3, but the desire to finish overrides the pain. I fall once more in the slolem, trying to avoid the woman who fell in front of me, and not tangling up the junior behind. One leg out, I dismount uphill, wrong side of the bike. I pick it up & run, thru the bottom turn and jump back on, nearly in synch with Matt yelling out advice as he cheers for me. I'm so slow. My back hurts. The grass block should be fast - but my legs don't turn over. I'm in my easiest two gears the entire race, can't bring myself to push any harder. But as soon as my feet hit the ground I'm running, I'm flying over the barriers and picking up a position or two, only to give them up once I'm back in the saddle feeling sorry for myself.

This doesn't make any sense, this slow - this acceptance to be this slow. I'm not a runner, but my race so far would prove otherwise.

I'm ready to give up, except for that magic number ~ one lap to go, one crazy bell heralding the Last Time I will have to take this turn, this field, this hairpin, this runup. I can do this One more time. Not much faster, but with a more willing spirit. The cheers continue - who are all these people? I ask the tent to get the jaccuzi ready, but I know they won't hear me over their cheering. I make it to the base of the runup, my cleanest corner and best ride up so far. I still walk it up, afraid of losing footing and see one girl pass me. She's in my field. There is still time.

Down in to the bowl. Crazy tight turns, my line works for me, I'm hurdling over the barriers, my back wheel bounces off the second one, but it's okay. Jump on, take the final turn onto the asphalt and push. I pass the girl who moments ago passed me, and speed to the line. Done. One tiny little victory to place 41 of 75 ~ where that magic number 1 will gain me a 6 pack next Sunday.

My voice is shot - husky and coughing. I'm still sucking wind, trying to recover.

Back at the tent - Heidi is glowing. She's a fucking animal, and all her prior pain and intensity are replaced by her damn happy smile, begging me if I had fun. I can't process this. I can't see beyond this exhaustion. I want whatever hot food we passed on the way to our tent. I'm hungry, I'm sore, I'm winded - what is this fun you ask of?

I'm so glad I finished. I'm proud I was able to ride the slolem fully, that I only mildly fell a few times, that I'm not bloody, that my husband is so proud of me that I think he'll burst. I ride the excess energy all night. I feel taller. I feel stronger. And I hurt, but it was worth it.

Did I have fun? Ask me next week.

CC#1 - Alpenrose Leadup

All week we watched the weather reports. The rain came in, which we knew would benefit the field and cx spirits all 'round. The forecast said Sunday would be dry after days of rain. The forecasters didn't know the power of 1,267 racers praying for mud. We woke to silvery skies, and the ever present misty rain of an Autumn morning in Portland.

All week I prepared for this race. Any mention or thought thereof would make my stomach pirouette, and I'd fight back with a deep breath and momentarily distracting myself. I'd revisit the topic, and test how much I could take, how quickly I could calm down. They say you can't be nervous about Cross. My gut just didn't learn.

Saturday's pre-ride was massively beneficial. I learned that there was no part of the field that would defeat me. I could mentally review the course. I was as prepared as I was going to be. Saturday night - pack the car. Our little mini is such a trooper.

Early Sunday. Longbottom coffee. TJ's Steelcut Oatmeal, walnuts, and Wonder Cocoa. Greek yogurt with strawberries packed in a cooler, next to the jumbo chocolate milk, almond butter sandwiches, apples & cookies. Stripuccino wool socks, beanie, and my new weekend jeans, puffy vest, and a couple long sleeve tee's. Layers and layers of clothing, gear, and shoes in the car. Mudbucket? check. Battle Scrapes and Minor Wounds kit? Check. Cowbell? Oops - left that one at home.

We arrive and park - there are six of us, just enough to raise the tents. Within minutes the PV tents are full. Matt begins his warmup, and I try to look cool and relaxed. Fake it 'til you make it, and all that.

I follow Matt and Josh to the start line, assisting with water bottles and jackets and good cheer. My stomach is flipping over watching them, subtley jockying for position, chatting up their neighbors, pre-congratulations all around. Brad Ross steps in with the announcements, and they're off. Matt makes a clean start, swerving around a very unfortunate fall that resulted in a cracked headset. The clydesdales are lined up behind this vacant space - their start line is 30 yards back. I walk down to cheer on the heavy contingent of PV, each with a hungry, wicked gleam in their eye. They go, and another wreck front and center. Three men roll over each other, a tangle of bikes and bodies and pavement. My gut is a wreck, and Britt takes all the jackets and bottles I'm holding so I can run down to the rest room. I'm grateful that there are real flushers here, and end up visiting about 8 times before my race.

Back to the tent to cheer and scream and rally for our guys. The next racers are lined up on trainers, and we help them with whatever needs done. BRat and his constantly tipping over trainer. Pins that need reset. A waterbottle just out of reach.

Racers finish, and out comes the blood & wounds kit. There are a couple shins that met pedals. Someone's hand is sliced up a bit. It's advil and anti-bacterial wash and neosporin all 'round. If it's not blood, it's mud. Chunky freckles speckle face & neck. Legs and arms are a smear where bodies hit the ground. The washdown includes baby wipes to get dirt out of ears, or off necks.

The next race starts. And the next. And the intensity grows. Fields are huge, each faster than the last. My nerves are growing ~ I find that my shouting is making me more nervous, so I start to withdraw a tad. Turn the music up. Check the time again and again. Eat - graze all morning. Hope I'm consuming enough fuel.

We set up my bike early. I claim space out in the rest room to change into my bibs, early enough to not be rushed. Almost too early. I need to do something, so I throw on the Sidi's and take to an easy spin. Minor cheering as the guys continue to race by. Note the small hazard just after the muddy slick hairpin that is tossing men over their handlebars. Sit there in awe as they roll gracefully away from such an abrupt toss. We cheer as they recover.

An hour later and it's time for a real warmup. Game face on. Warmup mix thrumming in my ears. Drinking the electrolyte water burns - I've shouted too much. Intense, but working. Focused - the nerves settle a bit. Luna moons, more water, more spinning. Trade out this vest for that one, don't over heat. Look casual as the photographer comes over to document the lineup of intense women spinning, cheering, focused. There are 5 of us on the front line of our tent. We look like we know what we're doing. There is no chatter - there is no need.

It's race time.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wheeling Wisdom

"Don't try to get the better of your wheel.
You cannot teach it anything and there is really much for you to learn."

"The bicycle is an educational factor, subtle and far-reaching, creating the desire for progress, the preference for what is better, the striving for the best, broadening the intelligence and intensifying love of home and country. For all that is beautiful is ours to protect and to cherish. "

--Maria E. Ward, Common Sense of Bicycling for Ladies, 1896

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Skills Drills

There are twenty of us, nearly all in the team kit. The bikes don't match, but the intent does.

After a quick chat, we start rolling clockwise, creating a circle on a square, grassy field.
Right foot clip out. Left leg pushes, right leg swings back and over the saddle.
Coasting, one leg clipped in. Swing leg back, pedal, repeat. Repeat.

Continuing in a circle at varying speeds we practice. Add a dismount.
Pedal. Unclip, swing, hop out, step step stop and remount.
Pedal, unclip, swing, hop, step step done. Again.

This is smooth. This is the easiest part. pedal pop swing hop step step go


Two steps. Plant and Pivot on left toe.
Open hips, swing right over the saddle. Drag left toe.
Catch saddle on your inner thigh.
Slide over, and clip in. Fumble, jam feet down and pedal even if you aren't clipped in yet.

Ready? Let's go. pedal pedal pop-swing-hop, step step Pivot and swing and slide and mash mash crunch.

It's a crazy dance. You take it slow, walking the steps to prevent the stutter step. It somehow works, throwing one leg over the saddle even tho it's taller than your inseam. Until you get tired, or your shorts snag on the tail or nose or you miss and slid over and nearly fall. Learning the dance will make you graceful. But you nearly wish you could step on toes when you miss, to share the pain. It'd be easier than the jarring shock through your body as you jam a foot down to prevent falling or crashing down on the top tube.

Now pedal pedal pop-hop-swing, and step Lift jump and jump and down, step step Pivot swing slide crunch pedal. You're over barriers. You roll and just as soon as you're on you jump off again to hop the next pair. The circle begins it's revenge. Slowly it picks it's target, the barriers catching their victims, sometimes sacrificing themselves to do so. But we aren't broken, we are only glad that was someone else, and pray that isn't us on race day.

Eventually we head over to a steep off camber slalom. A very tight set of turns, I can make one or two at a time, but not the series, not even in my lowest gear. I can finally climb that last steep apex, but I can't do that And turn And keep it in the lines. Between me and my steed, one of us is too nervous for this to work. Hop, Shoulder, and Run run run run run. That works. That will work. That will be my strategy even if I'm panting for the effort. I really hope that stretch in those angles is not part of the race.. if it is, it'll be shoots & ladders in the mud.

I try it again, try to find that confidence ~ that ability ~ because I have ridden this circuit before. But I'm lost, it's crowded, and I fall - uphill, fortunately. Left leg is out, holding me up on the hillside. Right leg extended behind me, stuck. It won't unclip. I pull, but it won't release, and the tendon on the front of my hip starts to cramp in place. I finally yank free, give the bike a little toss and frustration sets in. I know I shouldn't be frustrated, that many people fell on that same course, it's just practice... I know. And I'm pissed.

I go to bed sore. My right leg starts to twitch, my lower torso sore on the left side. I squeeze in to the compression tights and try to sleep. I wake up just as bruised, as tired, as sore. I imagine it can't be much worse than a kick-boxer's first week. I'm beat up, but still going. I'm not giving in.
I try to comprehend how to adjust my focus, to lower my expectations so that it is the fun event I watched last year, but not so low that I don't put in the effort.

I'm trying to find the joy in this dance. I'm searching for the fun, and hope it comes with the mudpuddles and tents and wool and party that will follow.

Until then, ibuprofen will be my maracas. Bruises my flair.