5: Pain is Inevitable

pain suffering buddhaIn mid-winter I started going to one of the local yoga studios as part of our winter trainer nights that were followed by warm, slow flow yoga. I’ve been doing yoga at home on and off for the last couple of years but this was my first foray into yoga beyond YouTube. It was a great introduction to yoga in a dedicated setting, with hands on instructors, and slowly getting used to warm and hot yoga classes. After the trainer night/yoga series ended I continued to occasionally go, enjoying how my practice was becoming smoother, my focus a little better, and the relaxation following savasana. But once daylight savings time hit and evening rides were back in rotation I missed the evening sweat sessions at Yoga and Massage (YAM). The only way I could see fitting in a class was to *gasp* get up and make it to 6am yoga. There are two things that get me up early: making money or racing. But I tried anyway, I wanted to be a person who got up and went to stupid early yoga classes, setting an early alarm here or there, but bed would hold on too tightly each time. Finally in May I was encouraged just enough to commit to 6am yoga twice a week on Mondays for Power Flow and on Thursdays for Yoga Tone. My goal was to make it through May, that was it.

The first Monday in May rolled around and I rolled out of bed, slapped my contacts in, grabbed my mat and water bottle and made it to 6am yoga for the first time in my life! Tired but excited I enjoyed the practice and went home energized and excited to be up…now I had extra time in my day! How cool!

Thursday I repeated the process, clothes laid out the night before, everything ready for me to get up, brush my teeth and head out the door. Now I’ve enjoyed the balance of the Yoga Tone as it challenges me in a different way. It’s more of a workout but brings the breathing, focus, and fluidity of yoga to a hard workout first thing in the morning.

This became my weekly routine. It’s not just the cleansing feeling of sweating on the mat, or the clarifying breaths, or the discovery of what my body can do that I’ve taken with me after each class. It’s also the little nuggets of wisdom and focus that the teachers bring into each practice that I’ve found sneaking into the rest of my day.

One quote that I took away from Yoga Tone was that “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” In the setting of our class it was to lighten the mood through a particularity hard series of lunges and balance moves, but as an athlete I understand this statement so deeply.

On the bike suffering is glorified. The more we suffer, the harder we rode, the more of a cyclist we are. No one wants to talk about the easy efforts, the races where everything came together perfectly. Instead we focus on the sufferfest, the agony of the bike, the rides where we wanted nothing less but to stop and give up the bike for good, or the races where the finish seemed like an insurmountable task. I’ve found myself in these places many times, focusing on the suffering mentally and physically. But in my limited experience of the cycling lifestyle I’ve rarely found that to be a good headspace to cultivate. When I think about how hard it is, how high my heart rate is, that my lap times are slowing down, or I’m being passed too frequently, or that the leaders are too far ahead, when I allow myself to suffer, my performance goes down.

But when I focus on allowing the pain to be felt (bikes are hard, ok), acknowledge that my muscles are burning, my lungs are aching for more air, taste the metallic in my mouth, and know that yes, this is painful but I can always hurt more, then I race and ride so much better. I finish stronger, I have more joy in the process of racing, and most importantly, there are no regrets after I cross the finish line.

So maybe instead of focusing on the suffering, we should change our mindset and focus on the pain. Afterall, that’s a better gauge of what we’re doing and usually lets us know that we can do so much more than we ever imagined.

Let’s Talk About Food

meet-kale

It seems like there is always some new food trend in cycling…paleo, vegan, vegetarian. Or super foods like kale, broccoli, beets, blueberries and so on. Drink this and you’ll have more power, eat this way and you’ll recover quicker. So many promises from so many foods. But when you think about, all the claims made for all these foods and eating styles are merely the results of what food was meant to do: nourish and power our bodies. A well-balanced diet, with fresh fruits and vegetables can result in such amazing things if we let it. Let’s stop eating crap and expecting a few doses of real food to make spectacular differences in our performance. Let’s eat real food, make good decisions about what we put in our bodies and see what awesome things happen!

Real-Food-Poster

Drink Up: Skratch Labs Review

Trying hydration products has been a hard one. For a long time I used normal Gatorade. I know, I know. It was cheap, easy to get, and I just didn’t know better. Cost is a big factor when it comes to drink mix, but ingredients, efficacy and how it made me feel have also played a big role in finding what works for me. So I tried other mixes. They either tasted nasty, made me feel nasty, did both, or were very expensive. Eventually I heard about the Skratch Labs drink mix. I liked the idea, simple, real ingredients that actually did what you needed: hydration!  I actually know what these ingredients are: cane sugar, dextrose, sodium, citric acid, magnesium, calcium, potassium and real fruit for flavor!

To say I was stoked when Beer City Bicycles started carrying their products is an understatement! I bought several of the single serve packets in different flavors and took them with me to mountain bike nationals in New Mexico to try!

The first time in New Mexico, I struggled with dehydration and the altitude. New Mexico is a lot drier than Western North Carolina! However, staying hydrated is one way to help fend off altitude sickness. This time I was prepared, I knew I had to drink a lot of water all the time, and that I would need additional help to ensure I got all the electrolytes my body needed to stay competitive.

Enter Skratch. My first impression was the taste! It was so fruity (I love fruity, but I also love real fruity, not sugary fake fruity. This was real fruity)! Then the consistency. It was as smooth as water should be, no grittiness, no weird residue left over. Next, the tummy test. My stomach felt fine! There was no cramping, nausea or feeling like I was overwhelmed by sugar. And finally, it was just refreshing overall! I used Skratch in my first bottle during the cross country race. Hydration while racing is one of the most important components. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t like what is in my bottle I don’t drink like I should. I drink when I HAVE to, and not always when I should. With Skratch, I didn’t have any problems finishing my bottle and making sure I was hydrated for my race.

I love all the flavors, but I think pineapple has to be my favorite right now. It’s just so tasty! While I use this mostly for cycling training and racing, Skratch can be used for running, hiking, and other workouts when you need electrolytes.

You can buy the drink  mix in the 1lb bag for $19.50. The serving sizes says you can get around 40 servings per bag, making this a lot cheaper than other drink mixes that only have around 32 servings per bag. Mixing up your mix is also a personal choice, I tend to go with a lower drink mix to water ratio than suggested to cut down on the sugar I’m consuming, getting more than 40 servings from a bag.  You can also purchase the single size packets for $1.95 each if you want to test out all the flavors or have the drink mix pre-measured for handy on the go use.  If you’re in Asheville, stop by Beer City Bicycles to pick up some Skratch! Otherwise you can order online directly from Skratch Labs.

Things That Have Surprised Me

I had grand ideas of what it would be like to be in shape….fit, energy for ever, super strength, etc. While I’ve never really been super unhealthy, there were times that I weighted in at the higher end of the healthy range, didn’t move enough and indulged a little too much (leading to the weight thing). But, two years into cycling and I’m the fittest I’ve ever been. What’s even better is that I’m much smarter about it too!

But there are some things that surprised me. Things that you don’t really think of when thinking about being an athlete or at a healthy weight and activity level. I’ve listed a few things that caught me off-guard and what I do to balance it out!

My list is in no particular order, just how my brain presents it!

  1. Flexibility: It’s super hard to stay flexible! This is why stretching is SO important! Your muscles get tight as they recover and repair after workouts, so post-exercise stretching is a good way to keep everything limber (and aligned correctly) and even reduce the soreness you feel the day after. At the other end of the spectrum is soreness from inactivity! Stretching can help here as well, but nothing beats regular active movement.
  2. Pain: Being fit can hurt! This ties in with post-exercise soreness, as  well as the pain during a workout. But it is so worth it! I’ve really found that the right mental attitude or perspective helps here. When I feel like crap during the climb, I know it’s good and that next time, I’ll be going a little bit faster! A saying that gets thrown around on the team a lot is: “It never get’s easier, you just go faster.”
  3. Immune System: Healthy people never get sick, right? Maybe so, but as an athlete I’m in the constant process of building up to the most fit I can be, recovering, rebuilding, recovering and on and on. This means pushing myself and my body to those peaks. The strain often means my immune system is right on the edge between resisting illness and succumbing to whatever cold is floating around. I combat by trying to get enough rest, trying to limit my sugar intake (I really like sweet things!), and eating foods that meet my nutritional needs so my body has what it needs to recover and resist. Don’t get scared though…moderate exercise actually improves immunity! So don’t stop just because you’re afraid of getting sick. That only happens with over-training and not allowing for proper recover or when you’re not giving your body the right fuel.
  4. Food: I can eat just about anything! It’s great! As long as I’m training, it doesn’t matter that I have pizza for lunch 4 days out of the week (granted it’s Kyle’s awesome homemade pizza, but there’s still a lot of cheese on those babies!), eat ice cream when I want (not every day of course), enjoy whatever dessert is being served, and not worry about drinking a beer with dinner. Sure, if I was more careful I might weigh less, but I value the enjoyment that comes not having to worry about watching every calorie. But really, be smart with what you eat! You’ll feel better, be healthier, and your body will be nourished!

It’s amazing to me to look at the past two years and where I’ve been and where I am now. I’ve found an activity that I am excited about, good at, challenged by and that has amazing benefits! I used to be jealous of people I knew who had that thing that they did and were so excited about. But now I have a thing that I am good at and excited about! This has changed my goals, my passions, my body, my mind, me.

So, all that to say….find something that gets you excited. Explore it. Be surprised! Work out the challenges and dig deeper. You’ll find yourself improved and strengthen. Isn’t that what we all want?

Eat Well

I love food. It makes me happy to enjoy an amazing meal made of high quality ingredients that enhance each other and create an amazing blend of flavors and textures. That being said, I don’t always make the best food decisions, especially when it comes to portioning correctly. But one thing I have noticed in my cycling journey is the way that it effects your diet. Not just what, but when and how.

Treating my body like a living machine that needs to be maintained, strengthened and and trained has made me more aware of what I eat. Especially since I’m working on finding and reaching my “race weight.”

At first I didn’t really notice how training was changing what I wanted to eat. But slowly that the desire to chow down on a big hamburger after a hardcore workout sesh was going away. Not to say that I still don’t crave a huge slab of red meat after some workouts, but I know that eating that or really anything greasy is going to make me feel sick, slow, and heavy. Instead I started wanting balanced meals that gave me protein and veggies.

Probably the biggest challenge to overcome when it came to my diet was breakfast. I’ve never really been a fan. Eating heavy, hearty food first thing in the morning was not something that appealed to me. Instead, an apple or yogurt was enough! Ha. Thankfully I’ve been able to start eating something that looks like a real meal in the mornings. I want to fuel correctly in the mornings (oatmeal all the way!) so that my metabolism knows it’s time to start firing, I stay full until it’s time for a snack (love me some snacks like Raw Rev bars, fruit, carrots, or corn chips) or lunch and feel more energized all day! That is so important not just as an athlete but as a student. I actually miss my morning oatmeal breakfast if I can’t get it! I noticed this while traveling to cx nats. Next time, I’m packing my breakfast!

Currently my eating focus has been on making sure I eat when I need to, not starving myself, and not eating too late in the evening. I hate going to bed on an empty tummy, so I have to be careful and think about when and what I eat in the evening.

Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned when it comes to diet and eating habits, is that appetite follows your body. If you’re taking the time and effort to workout, make active choices for your body, the food part of it will follow. It’s counter-intuitive to spend time and energy on the treadmill or on the bike only to go home and eat potato chips, hamburgers and mac & cheese. I still love all those things, but I love filling my body with healthy food that aids and enhances the time I spend training.

I also recently discovered MyPlate on Livestrong.com. It’s awesome! It helps track what you’ve eaten and the exercise you’ve done, as well as tracking the amounts of protein, fat, fiber, and more!

So, train well, eat well, be well!

Workout Stream of Conscious: Intervals (Caution: Language)

[Beginning of workout]

Yeah, I got this. Feeling good. Ha, powering through like a boss. Yeah yeah faster. check out that cadence! Those days off were good for me, feeling awesome! Yeah, okay. Push push push faster. Whew! That was ok! I got this. Don’t start too hard though, you always do that. Okay, get that cadence up….. and here we go again. Yup, still good…but….got this push it faster power power power. Ew. That spaghetti doesn’t feel good in my tummy. Whatever, that’s lame. No excuses! That’s a nice burn, clean that crap outta those muscles! Yeah! Power power power. Ah, heart! *Cough* Ow. That’s okay, recover. Ah yes!

[Middle of workout]

Fuuuuuck. Ow! Damn it, cadence! No excuses, remember that old guy? Seriously! Faster faster faster. Come on rpm. No…. up not down! GERRRRR! Wow, my heart is literally going to explode (in Chris Trager from Parks & Recreation intonation). No excuses! Come on, faster faster. Why isn’t it going faster? Oh, cowbell! Faster faster! Yes…good rpms. NO!!! Stay up damn it! Fuck this. Ow. Breathe breathe breathe. Stupid lungs. Come on. Okay, going to own this one! Get that cadence up…awesome! Okay…and now! GO! Settle in, maintain maintain. Come on legs! NO! FASTER! FUCK! Ow, my crotch! I’m never going to road bike ever. Come on…. stupid Madison WI. Fuck Madison WI. No excuses no excuses. AGH! Ew, I feel sick. No excuses, seriously! Push it, no excuses, gotta fuck Madison WI up! Ow. Fuuuuck.

[End of workout]

Uuuuuuugh. Almost done. Breathe breathe breathe. Push push push. Faster faster faster! Good heart rate. But still ow. Seriously, spaghetti not a good lunch. Owwww. Fuuuuck. Come on! P’own these! GERRR!!!! LAME!!! NO excuses ever. Come on…. ahhh! Wow, I feel sick. Maybe I’m not racing right… I never feel this bad after racing. Whatever. Wow….. okay just going to breathe and not vomit. Okay…. whoa. Yeah! Done! Ha!

***

Despite the misery, I know this is good for me. I’m glad for the opportunity to get such awesome training, and I know it will help me perform my best at ‘cross nats in Madison. But thinking about my inner dialogue from my interval session this evening was amusing after the fact. Training and racing require such a strong mental fitness in addition to the physical. I’m definitely working on finding what works for me and keeping it empowering.

P.S. Be sure to check out the link on the old guy reference. Mind blown!

Training by the Numbers

Last week I had my second power testing at Spin-Tech Training in Asheville. As part of their sponsorship of the team, we did power testing through them at the beginning of August. For the first testing in August we did a 5 minute followed by a 20 minute. For the 5 minute, I scored 198 watts. The 20 minute was pretty sad at 127.

This time around we just did a 20 minute test. I got my watts to 216! I’m pretty pleased with that! It’s mostly due to the training that O’Neill and Frank have given me.

So, that’s a huge boost going into nationals! I can’t wait to get out there and ride my heart out. I also can’t wait to get back and train more, ride a couple cyclocross races and see what other awesome I can crank out!