Friday, June 8, 2018

Finding Rosie

After my sh!tshow at Mammoth Gravel Classic, I had two more chances in May to work on finding my inner Rosie in races.

Chance #1 was at the Woolly Mountain Bike race, my first mountain bike race in almost three years. If there was ever a time I needed Rosie, this would probably be it.

Things went well pre-race. We got there early, I got in a good warm up and I didn't need any meltdowns over my brakes or GPS at the start line. I even started in the middle of the pack, instead of hiding in the back like usual. Not that I stayed mid-pack very long. When you gear your singlespeed for the hills, it doesn't take long for the pack to pass you. At least the passing happened before we even hit singletrack! I figured with 4 hours of riding to go I'd have plenty of time to pass people back.

Unfortunately, that positive thinking lasted one lap. Then my chain fell off. Four times. By the time I put it back on four times, I pretty sure I was in last place and Rosie had left me. Thankfully, the race was loops, I eventually limped into the start/finish area with my chain dangling off my bike. I asked if I could make a quick stop to find a mechanic and after confirmation I could, I promptly found Jimmay!!!  Finding one of my LCR teammates is even better than finding a mechanic. These guys could probably fix a bike with dental floss if need be. In this case, after 10 minutes with Jimmay!!, I was back on course with my singulator twist-tied to my bike.

Told you these guys could fix a bike with anything. 

Now, I'd like to say I went back on course and everything was sunshine and rainbows. It wasn't. Somehow, after all the stopping to fix my bike, I ended up right in the mix of the expert and comp guys starting their races. If you've never done a mountain bike race, let me just sum this up for you like this: these guys all think they're winning the Olympics, which basically means if they come up behind you on the trail, they will expect you to get your ass off the trail immediately, even if there's a place to pass in 10 feet.

I swear these are guys who would hold the door open for me any other time, but get them on a bike and they'd rather kill me than have to go off a smooth strip of dirt to pass me in some grass. 

Thankfully, after a couple of laps of this and a few tears (Yes, I can cry and ride a bike at the same time. Yes, I also know this is ridiculous.), the always positive Chris Gibbs caught me and yelled something about Rosie, which reminded me I should be Rosie right now. And Rosie doesn't cry when she rides her bike. So, I pedaled hard for the next lap and half, passed a few people back and surprised myself with an unexpected podium. Not that I looked all that happy at as I finished:
Photo: Woolly Bike Club

Lesson of the day: Sometimes (most of the time) persistence pays off. Even if you can't find your inner Rosie when you need her most.

Fast forward six days to Wild Ride Buzzard Buster 10 Hour Race. A chance to redeem myself and keep in my Rosie mindset for the whole day.

Again, pre-race went well. The 2 hour drive was enough time to get myself in the right mindset. I had over an hour once I got there to set up my transition and get the bike ready (the chain was no longer held on with twist ties). I ran into the awesome HCCC crew before the start and they let me set up under their tent. I'm not sure if this was out of kindness or because I mentioned I might get naked in there later.  I even had time to check with the race director to make sure riding topless was an option. (Yes, yes it was.)

When it's supposed to be over 90 I start planning to be naked. Clothes are hot.

With that, I headed to the start as Rosie. Thankfully, the Le Mans run start goes much better for me than a mass start on the singlespeed so for once I was actually the first girl onto the singletrack. Despite having to run part of the first crazy uphill, I stayed in my Rosie mindset and stayed at the front down the technical section on the other side.

At this point, I pretty much knew this was probably gonna be my day. That probably sounds nuts at the start of a 10 hour race, but for me, the starts are usually the hardest. If I can make it through that with a positive outlook, I can find a way to keep my head in the game for however many hours there are to come. So, the rest of the ten hours, despite a battle with the heat, was all pretty much full of smiling.

I even finally rode "topless" for my last few laps.
And yes, I cropped this photo. No one's belly looks good when they're bent over on a bike. Just trust me on this. At least I can smile while riding with what looks like a beer gut.

In the end, it was finally a win. Not just for the race, but for finally finding Rosie again, and keeping her around for a whole race.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Mammoth Gravel Sh!tshow

I've finally figured out why Big E gave me this after Polar Roll. I mean, of course I knew crying on the way to the start line was a bit extreme, but at the time I just sort of thought it was a one time pre-race mess.

Enter Mammoth Gravel Classic.

I did fine on the way there. It's more of a ride than a race so I refrained from crying during the hour long drive. I was even pretty relaxed...until we parked.

Then I saw people and bikes. Lots of them. To me this meant "race" and to my mind this meant "meltdown". In other words, I felt like I was going to pass out from nerves and I had to pee. Immediately.

As I headed down the hill to Cyclova, I discovered my brakes, which I thought I'd "fixed" the night before, were squealing. Again. Thankfully, Horns exited the shop as my bike literally screeched to a stop. Now, mind you, I can adjust my own brakes, but when these "meltdowns" happen, really it's better to just let someone else deal with my bike. I would probably break it. Or pee on it. (You never know- it might help the squeaking.) So, Horns obliged my freak out and fiddled with my quick releases.

After emptying a gallon of nervousness, I headed to the start line, where I promptly discovered that I didn't really know how to use my new GPS, which had the course directions on it. Back to meltdown mode. Of course, since I was now surrounded by a couple hundred people, it wasn't hard to find someone to rescue me. It also wasn't hard for Seve to show me that I just needed to hit a button and "Voila!" the GPS works.

Perhaps the next time I get a new toy I should read the directions.

You'd think that since my brakes were now fixed and I had a functioning GPS, I would be calm.

Ha. Ha. Hahaha. 

On the contrary, now that I didn't have any bike issues to stress over, I proceeded into full blown internal panic over whether one of these hundreds of people was going to run me over at the start. Basically, this means I stood there during the entire pre-race talk trying not to pass out. Or pee my bike shorts.

Needless to say, I was relieved to start riding so the freak out in my head would stop. Once we rounded the first corner, I finally convinced myself that no one would run me over and the panic stopped, mostly because it's really hard to panic when you're pedaling 120 rpms on a singlespeed hoping the entire field doesn't pass you on the first downhill. Of course, I'm pretty sure the entire field did pass me on that downhill, including Mr. Marx, who thought it best to be a wise-ass and shout, "How's that single speed treating you?"

Now, I'm not sure if he shouted this to purposely light my fire or he just wanted to be a smart ass, but either way, it turned on Rosie, my racing alter ego.  I might be a hot mess, but Rosie just wants to kick some ass. She doesn't have time for messes. Once she's turned on, I'm pretty much powerless to turn her off until the finish line. (And yes, I do realize that perhaps I should work on some sort of pre-race ritual that will turn Rosie on before the start line so we can avoid anymore pre-race sh!tshows.)

Anyway, Rosie was on a mission to pass back as many people as possible, especially Mr. Smartass Marx. Thankfully for her,  the single speed and its 29er tires could pretty much float over the sandy sections, so it wasn't long before the smartass himself appeared up ahead. For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to sneak up on him and slap him on the ass, which was going superbly until I got right behind his rear wheel. At this point, he swerved, nearly taking me down. As I jumped onto the grass to avoid a crash, I screamed. Unfortunately, at this point, although my hand wasn't on his ass, my mouth was rather close to his ear.

Let's just say, he finally knew I was there. He yelled something about needing Depends as I rode off. Rosie doesn't stop to help people who crap their pants.

The rest of the 70+ miles went pretty similarly. Someone would piss me off (like the guy who saw me struggling up a hill and said, "I don't mean to discourage you, but I think the hills get bigger") and Rosie would kick in even more and push harder. Even the three dead chickens and a random deer head in the road couldn't slow her down. (Thankfully- because who really wants to be going slow when there's a creature in the area ripping the heads off deer?) And the guy in the last 10 miles who would slow down, but whose ego couldn't stand being passed by a girl and would then speed up every time I passed him? Rosie was on a mission to beat him. Unfortunately, he had gears and the single speed couldn't quite match him on the last flat mile into town.

 But hey, at least he had to work for it. Rosie wouldn't have it any other way.

Now- I'm off to work on my pre-race ritual to channel Rosie. I'm gonna need her this summer...

Friday, April 13, 2018

Bridges and Tough Conversations

I've been pretty inspired lately by my new outlook on dealing with fear. Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea how often I was letting fear get in my way. Obviously, I knew I was using some pretty extreme avoidance tactics post head injury in order to drive every day without getting on the freeway or going over any bridges. Of course, if you live in the Twin Cities you know that at some point this became impossible if I wanted to get anywhere west of my house. Unfortunately, we have this thing called the Mississippi River. Turns out you have to drive over a bridge to get to the other side. At some point during the summer I finally forced myself to start doing this, mostly because the amazing Dana B. has her office on the other side of the river and I needed a massage. So, I pushed my fear aside and drove over the 494 bridge like a granny to see Dana.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I decided to change my outlook on fear and realized that perhaps facing this fear instead of constantly burying it might be a good idea. I recalled a conversation with Mama Liz last summer when I told her that maybe someday I would just ride my bike out onto that 494 bridge and stand there until it wasn't scary anymore. Since it was nearly 50 degrees yesterday, I figured it was as good a day as any to go hang out on the bridge.
At first the old fear-induced dizziness came back, but, funny thing, when I just let it be instead of trying to make it go away, it passed in its own time and there I was, pretty darn comfortable on the bridge. I mean, I didn't to any head stands or stand on the top of the railing or anything, but hey, baby steps.

I did get over the bridge phobia enough to take a ride out onto the old swing bridge later in the ride though.
I admit, I was pretty thankful it doesn't actually swing. Again, baby steps.

I know, these probably seem like little things, and actually when I finally did them they really were pretty minor. No panic attacks or meltdowns. The cool thing though- facing these fears of physical things is helping me face some of my other fears, which are really the ones that probably affect my life the most.

That fear of judgment I wrote about a few weeks ago- it's really been on my mind. Sometimes you just finally realize how much something affects you and it motivates you to do things you never thought you could do so that you can make it better. That's me and this whole fear of judgment thing.

So, this week, I had a tough conversation, one that a year ago I would've done everything in my power to avoid. I would've just disappeared and considered it over, never realizing what a great opportunity speaking up could've been- for me and the other person. Of course, when I finally had that tough conversation, and gave someone the chance to explain themselves, I realized that this person, who I thought was treating me a certain way out of dislike or judgment, was really treating me a certain way because he simply thought I could handle it. Apparently my happy-go-lucky attitude, combined with the fact that I can run for an absurd amount of hours on end, makes me appear to be tough as nails.

Of course, once I gave someone the chance to explain this, I discovered a lot more about myself than I would've had I just run away. As an added bonus, that person also got some feedback that might help him the the future too, something that would've never happened if I'd stayed quiet out of fear of judgment.

Now, hopefully facing this bridge fear and my fear of judgment will help me move past my fear of moving water before HAMR this summer. I'm told I have to cross the river a couple times with my bike and I really don't want to carry a life jacket for 170 miles. My bike floats, right?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Livin' the Sweet Life

I'm pretty sure I've written this blog post 100 times in my head. Somehow though, it always stays there and I'm unable to find the words to express it in a way that won't piss a lot of people off. Honestly, I'm not sure I know even now how to express it without pissing people off, but since I'm tackling my immense fear of judgment head on, we'll just consider this post a lesson in facing my fears.

I'm tired of other people telling me my life is easy. Don't get me wrong- I know I have a pretty sweet life. What girl wouldn't want her own business, a hot guy (who smells really good) and a high metabolism? So, yes, I know I have it great. I will never argue with that. I'm just really sick of the idea that getting all this awesomeness was "easy". That business I run? I worked 39 hours a week at a YMCA while I got it started. I still work at least one, sometimes 5 or 6, part time jobs a year to keep it going. That hot guy? I waited 40 years for him. I was alone for a lot of those. That high metabolism? Yeah, a lot of it came from my mama, but hours a day of exercise certainly isn't hurting.

So "easy" is all relative here. My life is "easy" because I make it that way. I work hard for what I want and when I get it, I appreciate the hell out of it. I refuse to join in our society's competition to see who can be busier, more stressed and more exhausted. We've gotten in this bad habit as humans to look at where someone else is and forget what they might have been through to get there.

Case in point- Marji Gesick 100. Here's the picture most people saw:
Photo- Ryan Stephens
 The elation of finishing. The fun part. What I got out of 7 months of training.

Here's the picture not nearly as many people saw:
Photo- Stacie Maynard Poquette

Let me tell you about this picture. I'm walking through Jackson Mine Park with 15 miles to go. Since I'd run the 50 the year before I knew about what time I needed to be here to finish under 30 hours and be the first person to get a buckle. I'd been on pace to do that for close to 24 hours, but about an hour before Stacie took this picture I realized I'd fallen off the pace quite quickly. My mind wanted more than anything to run, but every time it tried to relay that message to my body, my body gave it the finger. This picture captured my lowest moment. The one when I wondered how the hell I was going to finish this thing. After she took this picture, I walked around the corner to Super Kate, said, "I need to get my shit together", sat down in a lawn chair and stuffed my face with mashed potatoes. Somehow, fueled by cheesy mashed potatoes and some motivation from Kate (and the support all along from countless other people), I got off my butt and made it to that last picture and the amazing feeling that came with it.

Behind one picture that showed a moment of pure joy, were hours of suffering, a huge support crew and months of training. Judging just that one picture certainly doesn't give justice to all of that. Neither does judging someone just by the present moment of their life.  Saying, "It must be nice," or "So and so's life is so much harder than yours," completely negates how much work they might have put in to get where they are.

So let's all just stop. Let's stop competing to have the harder life. Let's stop assuming anyone has it "easier" than us. The next time we see someone who has something we want, instead of saying, "It must be nice," let's stop and ask their story. When we listen to it, we might just learn how to get the sweet life they have, instead of living the rest of our lives wishing we could have it.

(In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled. Over the next few months, I'll be posting some more "sweet life" blogs. This one was my rant. The rest will be full of tips, some from me, some from the many awesome people in my life, on getting the sweet life. And if you're one of those awesome people, be warned, I just might be asking you your story and all of your secrets to living a  sweet life. )

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Judgment Day

Conquering my fear of racing in front of a crowd....and having to push my bike.

It all started with a book, really.  I recently read The Art of Fear  by Kristen Ulmer. The gist of the whole book is basically that you can't fight or ignore fear. It might work for awhile, but it will still be there, screaming at you from deep inside until you finally face it, examine it and learn from it. Of course, doing this sounds easy, but it involves really taking a deep look at what you're truly afraid of and what measures you go to to avoid or silence those fears.

Again, that might sound easy. Being attacked by a shark. Or by a bear. Or a human. Getting into a life altering accident. Having another head injury. Racing in front of a crowd. Sure, these are all things I fear, but for me, none of those things stops me from anything. I still swim. I still play in the woods. I still run by myself. I still ride a bike. I even raced one in front of a crowd last month.

For other people, that might not be the case so maybe these fears would be things to examine further, but for me, they just aren't the fears holding me back. So, I had to wonder, what fears are holding me back? What really changes my life? What will I go out of my way to avoid so I don't have to feel fear?

I'll admit, I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks and hadn't come up with anything. Not that I'm saying I wasn't afraid of anything.  Hell, I feel scared for a good chunk of every day. But why? Because we all know I'm not walking around all day worrying about sharks. So what is it?

Well, this morning, it all came in a flash. I was riding my bike on the trainer and needed some distraction so I watched this video.  I swear I made it about two minutes before I started crying. If you don't feel like watching it, I'll just sum it up. She's talking about hesitation, about how it keeps you from doing things, how it holds you back. As soon as she used that word "hesitation" I knew what it is I'm so afraid of. That one thing that will always make me hesitate. That makes me not do or say something I really want to.

I'm terrified of being judged.

It paralyzes me. I sometimes lie awake at night reliving a moment over and over in my head from my day. A moment when I'm sure someone judged me- thought I was stupid or annoying or, God forbid, not perfect. If I don't feel completely ready for a race, I don't sign up for fear of being judged by the result. If I feel judged by someone more than a few times, I'll avoid them completely. When I felt judged on Facebook, I deleted my account. The big kicker though was realizing this-  I worry about nearly everything I say after I say it to the point where I often just say nothing.

This fear of being judged, this hesitation it's caused, it's stolen my voice. I used to write more often. I used to speak to strangers. I used to love to tell stories. Now I mostly just talk to myself. (I don't think I do this out loud. At least not yet.)

Of course, now the hard part comes. How do I change this?  I know it's not an overnight process. It will be long and hard and there will probably be a lot of tears. But then, nothing good in life really comes without a lot of hard work.

Since I'd just finished a video about hesitation, I figured I'd better start right away before I changed my mind about facing this fear head on. So, as soon as I got off the trainer I headed to martial arts and forced myself to talk to someone whose judgment I fear the most. You know what- it wasn't that bad. I'm pretty sure I won't lie awake tonight worrying about anything I said. I might lie there worrying about the many moves I didn't understand in Jiu Jitsu, but hey, one step at time.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Uphill into the Wind

Some races are harder to write about than others. Sometimes the story comes easily, usually because I actually wrote most of it in my head while I was racing. Other times, like with Polar Roll in February, the race is more of a struggle and the story then seems to be too. Not that I have anyone to blame for those struggles but myself. Racing a fat bike, especially for 40 miles, requires actually riding outside frequently for training and I'll readily admit I just didn't do enough of that before the race.

Now, that's not to say that we didn't have a blast on our trip. Big E and I rented our cozy apartment (the same one we rented for Marji Gesick) again and went up a few days early to play on bikes in the snow. Apparently to Big E, this means taking funny pictures of me when I crash in the snow.

In case you were wondering, no, he doesn't ever actually put down his camera and help me up. He says this is because if I crash and he's not around I need to be able to figure out how to get out of the deep snow on my own, which proved to be true in the race. And, yes, I just admitted he was right (just this once) here in public.

That said, I'm not sure what his reasoning was for taking my picture every time I walked up a hill.

 It took numerous tries to get one of me smiling. Oh, and if you look closely, you'll see my footprints are not the only ones there. Seems like maybe the photographer also walked his bike up this hill?????

When Ted arrived on Friday and joined us for a ride, I thought I might get some reprieve from all this picture taking, but low and behold, when I looked up the first time I pushed my bike up a hill, there he was taking my picture too.

They're lucky I was wearing mittens or someone would've gotten the bird at that point. 

Considering how much bike pushing happened on our rides, it should come as no surprise that my race on Saturday was a little slow. It went something like this:

We headed out from Ishpeming early to head down to Marquette for the start. Big E forgot something in the apartment so he left me in the truck to run back in. I put my headphones in to listen to some pre-race pump up music, which led me to start up my pre-race list from Marji. I'm not really sure exactly what happened but by the time he returned I was crying.

That's right. I cried before we even got to the start line. Hell, I cried most of the way to the start line.

Thankfully, Big E has learned by now to just let it be when I'm like this. Talking will not help. The flood of emotions has started and it's better just to let it flow. In this case, even if he had tried to get me to talk, I could never have explained the complex flood of emotions I was feeling. After all, the last time I raced on these trails, I was out there for nearly 32 hours and then ended up in an ambulance. Considering what my body went through, those 32 hours were like a mini-lifetime. Which means these trails hold a million memories, each of which hold their own emotions. Every one of which seemed to overcome me all in one moment. Add to that the fact that I'm completely terrified of big mass starts on the bike, and I was pretty much an emotional wreck.  (Later, on the way home,
Big E bought me this to commemorate the moment.)
Given the emotional start, the race was actually quite fun (except for the 12 miles of snowmobile trail). Somehow I pulled myself together before the start, mostly because I had to pee and finding a bathroom took my mind off my meltdown. And, as usual, once I was moving and realized I didn't die during the madness of the start, I started loving the day (except for the snowmobile trail). The first 12-13 miles went by pretty quickly, mostly because, as usual in Marquette County, we were either chugging our way uphill or zipping downhill hoping not to crash.

Then we hit the snowmobile trail. Let's just say this- uphill, in to the wind, by myself. For 12 miles. My left arm was so sore from overgripping my handlebars those first 13 miles that I was convinced I was having a heart attack for about 5 miles and was going to die here all alone on a snowmobile trail. Then I realized I was being dramatic and pedaled harder to get it over with.

That's when I discovered the best part about that snowmobile trail. The only good part about that snowmobile trail, really. There's a guy at the end with Coke. That Coke was worth that 12 miles of uphill, into the wind. I swear.

Plus, the real fun of this race starts after the snowmobile trail. In true Todd and Danny fashion, they make you earn it. You suffer, but there's fun. There's some flow. There's an aid station of fun Canadians with whiskey and beer. Then another aid station with bacon and hugs, where they really just want to give you more whiskey and beer. The guy in camo will give you a hug if you ask though.

Then, there's the finish, with more hugs from friends and lots of time sharing race stories with friends. With whiskey and beer, of course. Kinda makes that 12 miles of uphill, into the wind on the snowmobile trail worth it.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Lemon Cake and Life Lessons

January 30th has been a tough day the last seven years. Usually there are a few tears. Or maybe a lot of tears. This year, I decided that instead of sadness there would be celebration. Instead of mourning my mom's loss, I would celebrate her life. So we had steaks, and lemon cupcakes. Because in my family on special occasions there was always lemon cake. (Plus Big E loves lemon so it was a double win.) 
To my surprise, I actually made it through the day without tears. Of course I had to fight them off a few times, but to keep them at bay, I focused what I learned from mom over the years. I'd never really sat down and thought about this before so some of it actually surprised me, but then mom was kind of like that. Just when you thought you had her pegged, she'd bust out of her shell a little more and you'd see she wasn't nearly as quiet and shy as she first seemed.  
So, to celebrate her life, here are a few lessons I picked up from her over the years. Some she told me. Some I learned at the time from watching her. Many have come later, when I wonder what she would do in a situation and realize her actions already taught me that long ago.

Embrace joy. Every day. No matter what.

Laugh a lot more than you cry.  Both are acceptable. Just keep the laughing to a maximum and the crying to a minimum and life will be good.

Listen without judgment.  There's probably no better way to build trust. Plus, you'll be surprised how much deeper your conversations can go when people aren't worried what you'll think of them.

Use your voice selectively. Especially your raised voice.  Figure out what really matters to you. Speak up for that. Let the rest of the little stuff go. 

Be kind instead of right. At the end of your life, no one is going to remember all the times you were right. They just might remember all the times you were kind though. 

Say thank you, I'm sorry and I love you. Can you think of a time when you truly regretted saying these words? Probably not, but most of us can likely think of a time when we wish we had.

Choose your path. Other people will try to put you on the one they find most acceptable.  Toss acceptable (and comfortable) aside and go for the one that will make you exceptional. 

Know that it's never too late. To change yourself, or your relationship with someone you love, or the way you view the world. The only person truly keeping where you are right now is you. Quit blaming everyone else for who you are and become who you want to be.

Show up every day. Not every day is going to present you with something great to look forward to. Get your butt out of bed anyway and make something great happen, no matter how small it might be.

Finish what you started. Don't just set goals. Set them and then move yourself closer to meeting them everyday, even when it's uncomfortable. Especially when it's uncomfortable. If you have to work harder than everyone else, then work harder than everyone else. In then end, you'll be tougher for it. 

Go down singing. Or fighting. Or dancing. Or riding. Or whatever it is you love. By all means, do it until the very end.