2013 Road Trip #3

In a week or so (haven’t totally settled on a day), I’ll be heading out West for Marathon Nationals. A few years ago, I raced my first Singlespeed race at Marathon Nationals in Breckenridge, CO. I had a good time and ended up 3rd.

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This year, with a lot more training in my legs (and likely a bigger field), I’m hoping to improve upon that. Since the course is at altitude (not super-crazy Breck altitude), I’m changing up my acclimatization strategy. I’ve come to realize that the first day I’m at altitude, I feel like a rockstar- as in, “damn, the air here isn’t totally humid, so I feel awesome and can pedal really hard.” As is expected with normal human physiology, that feeling fades after about 24-36 hours. So, for the race at Sun Valley, I’m planning on avoiding altitude until the Friday evening prior to the race. In order to do so, I’ll pre-ride a little on Thursday, but spend most of the time leading up to the race in south Idaho (3-4K ft of elevation). It’s going to involve a lot of driving , but I’m hoping it will pay off with killer race-day legs.

Afterward, I’m gonna jet back home, recover, and, along the way, contemplate as to whether or not I want to pack up and make the haul to Cross Country Nationals in Pennsylvania less than a couple of weeks later. It’s really going to depend on my results and the degree of either contentment or angst that they produce. Considering the degree of heat, humidity, and poor air quality we get around Memphis that time of summer, it’d be a nice break to go train someplace where there’s just lots of heat and humidity. Otherwise, I’ll be mixing it up on the trainer like I did last year (not so bad, really… there are much worse things than a quick morning indoor interval workout).

For now, I’m enjoying the relatively nice weather. Yesterday, I went out on what was probably, at 112 miles, my longest ride to date. Initially, I wasn’t sure how long of a route I’d need for my prescribed 6 hours, so I started off with a 100 mile course that I’d previously completed in 5 hours, 15 minutes then tacked on an extra loop at the end. I felt strong the entire time, but I’m incredibly glad that 6 hour road rides aren’t a regular thing, because I was prettymuch ready to by sitting on a couch and not a bike by about hour 5.
Side note- sure, I’ve done my share of MTB rides way over 6 hours in the course of NUE races. This goes back to my previous post about training on the road, though. During a 6 hour ride, I had 27 minutes of coasting (you can look this metric up in training peaks or any other software that allows you to see how much of your ride was at a cadence of “0”). You can’t get that amount of pedaling if you’re only riding trails.

Today I’m laying low, going to a yoga class, and sticking around the house to work on some bikes. My repaired I9 wheel is coming back today, so I’m going to set my singlespeed up in race mode and get in some non-shifting miles before Natz.

An Open Letter to Drivers

Ok, since hopefully a lot of the people reading this are non-cyclists and have no idea who I am or what I do, I’d like to start with a little introduction of myself. I’m a professional cyclist. It’s my job to get out and train on my bike in order to do well at races and therefore sell things for my sponsors. I train about as much and as hard as any pro football player, but I get “paid” with equipment, race entry fees, travel expenses, and, occasionally, about as much money as what a pro football player makes in one hour. 99.9% of cyclists that you encounter are doing this for fun- just like you play golf, video games, lay out by the pool, read, drink alcohol… whatever. It’s a very enjoyable hobby and means of staying healthy.

First, I want to acknowledge that some people who are reading this will remain “unreachable.” This person generally falls into one of two categories- one will immediately hit the “comment” button with some sort of “I hate you, get out of here, you deserve to die” message. This person  likely goes through life expending lots of energy hating lots of things and people, including the terrible person on a road bike who he/she almost hit because he/she needed to pass NOW, and the cyclist is just “in the way” of their car.  The other sort of “unreachable” person views the road as a “motors only” zone, cyclists as idiots with death-wishes, and doesn’t believe that it’s his/her responsibility, as a driver, to watch out for slower moving vehicles (yes, a bike is a vehicle) on the roadway. This person will defend those views with the same fervor that the members of Westboro Baptist church defend their own views on who has a right to get married. If that applies to you, I’m guessing you could save your time and energy by just not reading the rest of this letter.

Now, for the 99% of you drivers out there who, based on my assumption, are normal human beings experiencing a range of normal human emotions when you, in your car, encounter a person riding a bicycle on the road. I just need your attention for a few minutes.

I’d like to start by addressing the issue of the cyclist that everyone (including law-abiding, non-jerk cyclists) dislikes. I’m talking about the guy (or girl) that’s disobeying traffic laws, running stop signs, speeding through school zones, riding the white line to get in front of traffic at stoplights, etc. Also included in this category are the groups of cyclists that erratically morph all over the roadway- often crossing the yellow line into oncoming traffic and/or taking up more than one lane on the road, and running redlights. I’m not justifying this behavior in any way, I’m just gonna say that drivers also do dumb things and break traffic laws. There’s not much that you or I can do about it, so how about we just let dumb drivers and dumb cyclists cancel each other out in this instance. Deal?
Side note- Not included in the “dumb” group are the cyclists (or groups of cyclists) that take up one single lane of the road. While it may make it harder for you, in your car, to pass (more on this in a second), it’s a self-preservation thing. If I ride in the gutter, I’m inviting you to attempt to pass me very closely when there’s oncoming traffic (a.k.a. “Buzzing” me). Getting buzzed is dangerous and freaking terrifying. It’s why there’s a law in Tennessee stating that you must move over to the left lane of the interstate for a stopped emergency vehicle. Cars coming close to your body are dangerous.

While we’re on the topic of passing, I’d like to bring up the fact that Tennessee (along with a lot of other states) has a “3-Foot Law.” It just means that you need to put 3 feet between your passenger side mirror and my body when passing. You know what, though? Only leaving 3 feet is kinda like having only the minimum amount of flair.

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If you could, when you pass, pretend like I’m the size and shape of a tractor. The big difference between me and a tractor, of course, is that if you brush up against the tractor with your car, your car gets scratched and dented. If you brush me, I could die. Just think about maybe letting off the gas and getting all the way over in the other lane. That’d be amazing, and would make everyone’s lives less stressful and a whole lot safer.

Now, I realize that this brings us to the sorest of subjects between cars and road cyclists- on a curvy/hilly/busy road, sometimes you have to wait for what seems like forever to pass. This is when I really need you, as drivers, to bear with me. I’m not going to start spouting off about “I’M A CYCLIST AND I HAVE  RIGHT TO RIDE HERE BLAH BLAH…” I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that most of you know that it’s legal to ride a bike on any roadway that isn’t marked otherwise. I’m just asking you to think of waiting to pass me by comparing the situation to other, non-car-related life situations.

For example- you’re at the grocery store, waiting in line. The lady in front of you pulls out a checkbook when it’s time to pay. The cashier doesn’t even KNOW how to deal with this because, let’s face it, who the heck still uses checks?!? It ends up taking FOREVER to make the transaction, and, all the while, other shoppers are piling in behind you and wondering why on earth the line is moving so slowly. Do you, A) Start yelling at her that she needs to get a debit card like everyone else and quit wasting your precious time, B)Pull out a gun and threaten her for being such an idiot and holding up the line, or C) Roll your eyes and wonder why anyone would use checks, but otherwise wait patiently until she gets out of the way.

Maybe you hate that lady for doing something that she KNOWS is causing everyone an inconvenience. Does it mean that you’re going to try and intimidate or threaten her for doing so? Probably not. So, let’s relate this back to the cyclist thing. There you are, stuck behind a cyclist, going 17 mph in a 40mph zone, and there are too many curves in the road to see ahead to know if it’s safe to pass. Are you going to threaten the cyclist with a deadly weapon? (yes, your car counts as a deadly weapon) Are you going to act in a way that makes the cyclist think that his/her life is at risk, just because you are getting impatient? I’d hope not.

That’s really my point. I’m not going to ask for the pipe dream of drivers and cyclists riding off into the sunset together on the back of a rainbow-unicorn-pegasus. I’m just asking that when you come across a person that irks you because they feel the need to ride a bike on the road, just don’t be a jerk. Be a decent human being who has respect for the life, hobby, and, on occasion, the livelihood of the human being that’s causing you inconvenience and getting on your last nerve.

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The Office

There’s a lot of argument all over internet message forums and facebook pages about whether or not you need to train on a road bike (or at least ride your mountain bike on the road) in order to get faster. I think that the answer is very regional, but, physiologically speaking, there’s no argument that you need to incorporate sustained, high-intensity efforts into your routine in order to be able to sustain high intensity efforts during racing. If you live in an area where your terrain and trails don’t lend themselves to that, then the answer is “road,” because no amount of “going hard” on a trail where you have to coast and negotiate your way through turns and trees (thus, interjecting “rest” into your hard efforts) will equal the effects of hard, steady road pedaling.

Of course, the argument against riding on the road is that it doesn’t improve your skill. Yes, you’re right. It doesn’t. I wasn’t trying to imply that the only sort of training a mountain biker should do is on the road, I’m just saying that if you want to be fast, you have to do steady, interval-type training. The most commonly referenced argument against this is what Gerry Pflug has to say about his training “program.” After you read that, I want you to realize that A)Gerry Pflug has an insane number of miles in his legs, and he’s likely a bit of a genetic monster to start, and B) If you look at those “2 hour rides” he talks about, I’m willing to bet that they include some sustained efforts that highly resemble steady road interval training. Of course, there are also people who live in areas where there are many options for long, sustained climbs and singletrack. Those are the people who post their gorgeous mountain overlook photos all over Facebook and Twitter (I’m looking at you, Sonya Looney). Their intervals happen while climbing 1000ft up a mountain forest road surrounded by aspen trees and brown bears (Ahem… Karen Jarchow).

Memphis isn’t one of those areas. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying that, if you want to be fast, and you live somewhere that’s this urban and sub-tropical, you’re going to have to find your pain cave… or, as I like to call it, my office:

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That’s a farm road that’s only about a 15 minute ride from my house. It’s perfectly flat, and is the site of some of the best wind fights you can possibly get into (it also parallels a nice trail system that can be a good spot to warm up before exiting to the road). As part of the Agricenter, there’s some occasional tractor and pickup truck traffic (and some angry commuters in the morning), but it’s generally a place where I can go and bury myself in a sea of lactic acid without any interruptions. It’s my interval training happy place- where I go when I want to get faster.

Want to get interactive? If you’re social media-ing, tweet a photo of your office/pain cave back to @BrickhouseMTB, or tag @Brickhouseracing on Instagram. No pretty mountains allowed.

Pre Trans-Sylvania Rundown

I’ve been pretty quiet here since Syllamo because I’m trying to NOT wait until the last minute to have everything ready to leave for Trans-Sylvania. I’ve been pretty successful so far, getting both the Air9 RDO and the Jet9 prepped for action and even managing to squeeze in a 3 hour ride to check out some flooding in north Shelby County…

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(Post-ride recovery brought to you by Podium Legs Cold. Easier than an ice bath, and less expensive than moving to a house near a snowmelt-fed stream)

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While I was out on my ride, I made a decision on something I’d been pondering for the previous 24 hours. I bought a Specialized Command Post dropper seatpost for the Jet9. Because of the kink in the Jet9 seattube, I traditionally need to trim a longer seatpost down to achieve a proper seat height. The dropper post, at 280mm, was a hair too long. Literally- I could ride it by scooting my seat forward a  few millimeters, but it was going to bug the hell out of me, and maybe give me weird “you changed something” feelings in my joints. Upon closer inspection, I realized that there was at least a centimeter and a half of bare post at the bottom end of the mech. So, I made a 2mm modification…

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Good news and bad news, though. The good news? It fits PERFECTLY now. The bad news? I got metal shavings in my beer, and the amount you see in the picture below had to be poured down the drain.

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So, things are falling into place. I’m excited, scared, anxious, and a little hopeful, all at once. Along with some posts here, you can expect a myriad of stuff on social media, as well as through XXC Magazine and Mountain Bike Radio.

Cautious Optimism

As I mentioned in last week’s posts (as well as in TSE Journal #2 that I wrote for XXCMag), I successfully completed a sold block of training. It’s something I haven’t done much because of either A) work or B) some unforeseen issue like injury or feeling overly-fatigued. (glad to have eliminated option “A”) This time, however, I did it. Every minute of all of it. Perfectly.

Following that last big ride on Wednesday, my legs hurt like hell. I was supposed to do a 1hr recovery ride on Thursday, but all I could muster was a painfully slow ride to/from Outdoors (20 minutes round-trip) to give some love to the rear brake on my Air9 RDO. Apparently, some sort of reverse hydro brake jesus has been working his mojo on my bike, because the mineral oil inside had mystically been turned into black swamp water…

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After flushing at least 4 syringes full of mineral oil into it and tapping it all over with a screwdriver to chase the bubbles out, it’s as good as new.

Aside from some pretty kickass yoga classes, I otherwise took it easy until yesterday, when I had a “half” training ride on the schedule. After making a Mother’s Day brunch that even Gordon Ramsey would be proud of, I went out to my favorite pain cave spot in Shelby Farms and proceeded to destroy my two prescribed intervals. They almost felt too good to be true.

Almost.

So, I get one more of the same abbreviated interval workouts between now and Syllamo’s Revenge on Saturday. I don’t ever like to get my hopes up about a race and the possibility to feel awesome, because there are soooo many other factors that go in to having a good race- especially at Syllamo, where the potential for outside killers like inclement weather and mechanicals is probably greater than any other race I’ll go to this season. It’s kinda like getting my hopes up for my birthday on Wednesday- all I can do is turn 32 as best as I can, but the quality of the birthday party is reliant on outside factors that I have little control over. Philosophy of “hope for the best, expect the worst” is implemented.

 

aaaaaaand, Done.

Yesterday I put the wraps on my aforementioned training block by going out and riding 100 miles. Typically, I’d connect a couple of my longer routes with some gravel out on the eastern ends of each loop. However, this time, I was recon-ing for the “Poolboy Matt’s 2013 Gentleman’s Ride,” and had a “no gravel” stipulation on the route choice. At first, I was a little disappointed, but it turned out really well because I found some gorgeous, rolling farmland and hardly any traffic. I’ve found that once you get out past a certain point, the traffic that you do encounter gives you the three finger country wave from the steering wheel (not to be confused with the one finger wave that you get closer to town).

The way I do long rides is to carry all the food I need then stop at various churches (or volunteer fire dept.) along my route to refill my bottles:

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Side note: For those of you wondering how I have a “working” EVO frame- it’s not. It’s one of the out-of-spec frames with a PF30 to English adapter and the GXP Quarq off of my cyclocross bike. I’m not sure when the new warranty frame will be available.

 

90 miles in:

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Salty:

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I needed a “snack” after I cleaned up, so I went for the (grass-fed/nitrate & antibiotic free) bacon cheese burger:

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I generally felt good for the entire ride, which was great considering the training I’ve done over the past few days. If you’re actually interested in what I do, you can take a look at Strava. If you don’t really care about training, but you want to see random photos (and you aren’t already inundated with social media), you can look at Instagram instead.

Now it’s mostly recovery until Syllamo and TSE where hopefully the hours of saddle time invested turn in to successful racing dividends.

Doing the work…

I haven’t had much opportunity to sit around and be disappointed that I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be at the Whiskey 50. That’s due, in  part, to starting in on my last hard training block before Trans-Sylvania Epic. In 4 days of riding (May 5-8), I’ m slated to put in 16 hours worth of riding, all of which includes some sort of  intervals. So far, so good- I’m halfway through, and I’m feeling better than I would have expected (I’ve got another 4 hours on tap for today, so we’ll see if I’m saying the same thing this afternoon). After these 4 days, I’ve got a couple of more reasonably spaced hard rides, Syllamo’s Revenge 50 (May 18th), and lots of recovery rides.

It’s been a little cold and really rainy since I came home from Whiskey. I’ve managed to get rained a little (and a lot) during all of my rides up until today (forecast is for 70 and sunny, so that’ll be a pleasant change). However, as I mentioned yesterday on my Facebook page (link is on the right sidebar if you’re not already on there), my desire to get faster has completely overridden my want for personal comfort. The only thing that I’m disappointed with right now is that the trails are so soaked that it’ll be this weekend before anyone should touch tires to them again.
As a side project/torture test, I applied some ProGold Xtreme lube to the chain on my road bike on Thursday before heading out for 3.5 hours in the rain, and I’m waiting to see how long it is before my chain starts making tweety bird noises. If you’re like me, you’ve probably noticed a lot of people plugging ProGold lately on their blogs/facebook/wherever. It’s not just because Bruce Dickman is a nice guy who hands out a bunch of lube- it’s because, as a whole, it’s been stupid rainy here in the Southeast, and ProGold makes a lot of stuff that will very effectively clean/lubricate the parts on your bike.

(I didn’t really mean to shill for the sponsors for two posts in a row, it’s just that mentioning how much rain riding I’ve done lately reminded me of my lube experiment)

Somewhere in the mix of training, raining, and recovery, I’ll be turning 32 on May 15th. In light of the slowly growing number of scars and dents on my body from various & sundry wrecks, as well as my recent run-in with a motor vehicle, I’m coming to realize the reality of this quote from Hunter S. Thompson:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

A safe, pretty-bodied life seems way too boring. When I look at a scar or a bruise, I don’t think that it’s made my body less attractive, but that it’s a reminder of the fun and/or adventure I was having at the time of its installation.

Whiskey Off Road Race Report

This might quite possibly be the most boring race report I’ve ever written. I generally had a great race, but the results were not very impressive.

As I mentioned before- Saturday I took as a very relaxing recovery day. I had a good night’s sleep Saturday night and woke up in plenty of time to eat, pack up the hotel room, and get to downtown Prescott before the crowds took all of the good parking spots. I changed and started rolling around to get a good warmup.

The awesome thing about racing the Pro category (other than getting to meet some of my favorite MTB heros on the start line) is that the 44 of us entered were privileged to our own start. Anyone who has ever raced an NUE race (or the Whiskey 50-proof amateur race the day before) can attest to the misery of traffic jams that result when huge numbers of riders of all shapes/sizes/abilities (whether real or perceived) all take off at the same time. Instead of arriving at the start 15 minutes early to elbow my way up to a good spot on the line, I meandered my way over once I heard the men’s race start 10 minutes ahead of us.

The race began with a gunshot fired by an old guy in old-time western costume. The course starts with a long climb out of town. It’s eerily quiet with the exception of the pockets of crowds that had gathered to cheer us along. At first, the pace remained easier than I thought it would as we negotiated the last of the city streets. However, once the road went to gravel and pitched up steeply, the leaders kicked it up, and the group strung out with me about 3/4 of the way back. I knew the pace I could maintain, and I knew that some of the women ahead of me were going harder than what they should, so I stuck with my effort and soon started to reel them in one at a time.

“Reeling them in” is a relative term here. Yes, I passed ladies who generally never passed me back. However, I wasn’t passing the women who were using my same strategy, but had all-around better fitness than me.

The only difficulty I suffered during the race was coming up the long dirt road climb out of Skull Valley. I was doing a great job of “singlespeeding it” by picking a really comfortable gear and standing/using my bodyweight to go faster than I could seated for the same amount of effort (it’s a learned skill- if you’ve never done much singlespeed climbing, you’ll find that until you figure it out otherwise, you’ll use more energy standing than you do when you sit). Example- if I stand and climb at a heart rate of ~170bpm, I’m going 9mph, whereas, if I sit and spin at  ~170bpm, I’m only doing 8 mph.
Anyways… I got a terrible case of hot foot (I think?) My outer two toes on both feet felt like someone was clamping them into a vice and they were about to explode off of the end of my foot. I was forced to sit. I’d been hanging with Li’l Karen Jarchow for a while, but when the toe thing screwed up my singlespeeder mojo, she dropped me like the 105 pounds of stone cold killer that she is.  I still passed a couple more ladies on my way to the top, but I wasn’t a happy camper.

Once I was up to the overlook where I’d taken photos on Friday, I made the right hand turn and started the descent back down to town. The descending out there was a ton of fun, though once I nearly made contact with a prickly pear cactus bush the size of a smartcar. I stayed on the gas the whole way in to make sure that no one caught up to me.

My finish time was 4 hours, 10 minutes. 27th place. Meh-pic!

 

Don’t get me wrong- given the all-star nature of the field, I wasn’t expecting a top 10 (or even necessarily top 15) finish. I was, however, hoping to be at least in the top half of the finishers. I’ve come to the following conclusions: A) Fitness is the obvious improvement. That’s a work in progress, as always, but this just provides a little extra something in the back of my head next time I don’t think I have the extra 5 watts at the end of an interval. B) The altitude had a little bit to do with it. It was day #3 at ~5300ft, so it would explain why I’d felt like a rockstar on Friday but maybe a little blunted on Sunday. C)I have to go downhill faster. That’s a tough one to work on in Memphis because the hills here are short. Descending at 20mph is what feels “normal” to me. When I get to where the descents are longer and faster, it feels crazy- I’m just not accustomed to the speed. It’s kinda like when you go from a state where the speed limit is 70mph to one where it’s 75mph. When you make that 5mph jump on the cruise control, it feels like you’re flying at first, but by the time you’re at the next state where it goes back to down, 70 feels like you’re standing still. I realized at Breck Epic last year that I can adapt to the speed pretty quickly with a little practice. It’s just finding a way to practice less brake and more shred. Maybe I need to learn to ride a moto… though that could become a “habit” in and of itself.

So, it was a good race to see both my strengths (I did a great job with pacing and nutrition), and my weaknesses (listed above). Trans-Transylvania is on the horizon, and it’s slated to be another stellar field of women. Along the way there, some hard training, a birthday, and Syllamo’s Revenge. Commence to hard work…

 

Recovery Day Shennanigans

We had so much fun with the triathletes a couple of weekends ago, that Poolboy Matt and I decided to “spectate” Sunday’s XC race at Herb Parson’s Lake. This time, we switched roles and added a horsehead mask. Hilarity ensued.

As always, follow the karma rules of photo-grabbing: these are totally free for everyone to download. If you email me (andrea at brickhouseracing.com) and ask for a file, I’ll send you the high-res version. In exchange, though, I ask that you please link to my blog (copy and paste from the address bar above) wherever you decide you’d like to display your photo on the internet. Practice good photo credit  karma or else you’ll get a flat tire!

 

Balancing build and recover

I’ve never been much of a gambler, but it seems that my (usual) slow recovery from the Ouachita Challenge and the proximity of the Whiskey Off-Road weekend (4/26-28) are making my participation in this weekend’s Slobberknocker race a proverbial roll of the recovery dice. If my last two hard training rides on Saturday and Monday had felt like 100% awesome, I wouldn’t question anything, and  I’d go to one of my favorite regional races and have a great time. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Given my current fitness, the power numbers were about 95% of what I’d normally expect. Sure, a 5% drop doesn’t sound like much, but when the amount of recovery days I took following Ouachita don’t produce the amount of recovery I’d usually expect, then I start to get nervous.

I’m not sure what it is about Ouachita that does it to me, but I’m trying to prevent what happened last year from happening again this year. I raced, thought I’d recovered, then went to Slobberknocker and Cohutta 100 on back-to-back weekends. The three proved to be a deadly combination from a recovery standpoint, because by Syllamo’s Revenge (mid-may), I felt absolutely useless. I was basically forced off of my usual training for the weeks leading up to the Mohican 100 at the beginning of June. I managed to make the best of it, but it didn’t do much for my race results.

So, as Coach said, we’re taking it day by day. My legs felt alright yesterday on my recovery-ish ride (mostly spinning with a few hammery-spots to see if I still felt gassed). I’m going to the Tiger Lane crit tonight to race with the Cat4 men. The short/high-intensity effort should be good for fitness without too much stress. It’s sad that even though there are enough capable women in Memphis to make a decent criterium, they’ve so rarely shown up to the event in years past that the promoter actually took women off the website flyer and just asked me which race I want to jump into, and that he’d give me a requisite payout just for showing up (if you register online, they actually have all women listed with cat5 men, though in the past, they were on the flyer as racing with the cat 4s).

I digress.

In hit-by-car news, I’ve started PT sessions to try and heal the severe contusion in my right glute where I hit the ground in my Mazda-induced flight. The muscle is so hard and knotted that I can barely get into it by sitting on a lacrosse ball (a foam roller or quad baller is basically useless). Physical therapy has been a combination of the therapist digging knuckles/thumbs into the area and using Ultrasound to control the resulting pain/inflammation. It’s pretty intense, but hopefully it will bring back my original level of muscle function for that area.

I’ve got a huge season ahead, so hopefully I can skirt the edge of “too much” that I’m finding right now and get right into “totally kicking ass.”