Gloomy Days

When you open your eyes and see this out the window, it’s hard to get out of bed:

Dark. Gloomy. Rain in the distance. These are things that seriously hamper my motivation to go train.

Yesterday was particularly tough – the morning workout was threshold around the lake, something I often struggle with. “Around the lake” sounds flat, doesn’t it? And Big Hosmer Pond isn’t that big, is it? Well. The loop is actually 7.1 miles long, and starts with a long climb – about 200 feet of height differential in a mile.

Threshold work is supposed to be light and fun. The idea is that you are working hard, but not accumulating too much lactic acid. For me, I try to keep my heart rate at 180 to 185 beats per minute for threshold work. That’s about 90% of my max.

When you do 8 minute intervals at threshold pace, it feels good, like you could keep doing intervals at that pace forever.

When you run for 7 miles straight at threshold pace, it doesn’t feel so easy. Except for the fact that you don’t sprint at the end, the pace is not all that different than racing over the same distance.

Anyway, yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window. It was gray. It was drizzling. It was a little bit cold. And I didn’t have a training partner for the workout: Ida, Susan, and Hannah are gone on extended trips, and Lauren was in Jericho doing biathlon. I ate a quick breakfast and set out on the workout.

Even on gloomy days, you have to suck it up and try to motivate yourself. Was I as excited for the workout as I would have been if it was perfect running weather and I had a buddy to run with? Absolutely not. But I did manage to get the workout done and accomplish what I was supposed to accomplish. When I got home, I made zucchini bread, with lots of chocolate chips, and ate it warm out of the oven. Gloom calls for hot baked goods with melty chocolate.

This morning, I was faced with another similar situation. Before I went to bed last night, I checked the weather, which called for rain all day. Lauren and I had planned a 3 1/2 hour bike ride, and we had to do the workout no matter what the weather did. When we woke up, it was indeed wet and cold. But we put on our long-sleeve shirts and headed out promptly at 8 a.m. anyway.

On the first downhills, our fingers and toes felt frosty. But after ten minutes of riding, we were headed up the East Craftsbury road, which climbs about 700 feet in 4 miles. It’s no mountain pass, certainly, but it did warm us up.

On numerous occasions we felt sure we were about to ride into the rain. We could see it, right there, on the hill across the road. But after a minute of light sprinkles, the rain would disappear, and we would once again be riding through the wet, cold air – nothing to get too excited about, but at least it wasn’t wet, cold rain.

The ride went perfectly except for one thing: I flatted twice. The first time, I was upset, but changed the tube and used one of Lauren’s CO2 cartridges to fill up with air. As neither of us had used one of these handy tools before, there was a lot of giggling and screeching, especially when the cartridge seemed to freeze onto my valve. New skill: check!

The second time, we were in Irasburg, with less than 45 minutes left to ride. I chickened out and didn’t feel like fixing another flat so close to home. Luckily, my housemate Anna happened to be driving through Irasburg and picked me up! So I got a ride home, where I took a long, hot shower and ate some more zucchini bread.

Fall is in a way the toughest time of year for finding motivation. It should be easy, because racing is so immediate: you need to get out there and get ready. But at the same time, you’ve been doing dryland training for months already, and you’re kind of sick of it. Do you really want to go for another long rollerski now that it’s cold and, invariably, raining?

I know that I have to buckle down and stop being such a gloom-bucket myself. There’s always a hot shower waiting for me at home – so how bad can it be?

What's wrong with this picture? Look closer....

Prouty on!

Don't be fooled, it was NOT sunny out.

Yesterday was the 29th Annual Audrey Prouty Memorial Ride. The ride, which is not a race, has options of biking 20, 35, 50, or 100 miles, starting and ending in Hanover, and is a fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. This year the Prouty had 4,500 participants and raised over $2 million. I decided to ride my bike 100 miles – how hard could it be compared to some of the training that Pepa makes us do?

I had another reason, too, for choosing the longer option. I was riding in memory of my grandmother, Jean McIntyre.

I was a lucky kid growing up, because my grandparents lived on the other side of town. I could go over to their house after school every day, and I got to know them and spend more time with my grandmother than many kids get to spend with all of their grandparents combined. “Mommom” was a truly amazing lady: kind, thoughtful, hard-working, creative, and very nurturing. My first pony lived at their house, which made it even more exciting to visit. I learned my first lessons about taking care of animals, and always got to help name the lambs when they were born. I’d go over after school, and Mommom would make me cream cheese and homemade cherry jelly sandwiches, cut on the diagonal just like I liked. She taught me how to bake cookies and how to knit, using yarn that she had spun herself from the wool from her flock of sheep. When I was in high school she gave me a Canon A-1 camera and taught me how to use a darkroom.

But more than any of the skills she taught me, she taught me to be a good person (to the skeptics out there: think of how much more of a bitch I would be if it weren’t for her). I really enjoyed all the time I got to spend with her.

Jean.

I rode my first Prouty (that I can remember) after Mommom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2001. Even though she was going through treatment and the cancer was wrecking her body, she and the rest of our family rode 20 miles together. It was amazing to see the willpower she used to get herself through that bike ride, and she was incredibly cheerful the whole time.

After Mommom passed away in the spring of 2005, I decided I would ride 100 miles. I had never done much bike riding and back then, I wasn’t in the kind of shape I am now – I was a senior in high school, a decent runner but not a great skier, and I didn’t even own my own bike. Nevertheless, my aunt Liz, my friend Julia Schwartzman and I rode 100 miles in the rain in memory of Mommom.

I missed the next few Proutys because I was working in Colorado. Last year, when I started living in Vermont (a manageable commute!), I rode 100 miles again, this time with my neighbor, Ray Clark. Ray is in great shape for being 60 and no doubt rode his bike much more than I did, but still rode kind of slowly. The 100 miles didn’t seem to hard.

This year, I rode with Sara Cavin and Ed Meyer. Ed is a really, really good rider. He goes to Cyclocross National Championships and stuff. Sara is also a very good rider. She rides about a million times as often as me (I hadn’t ridden in the last three weeks).

Not surprisingly, the ride felt a little bit harder this year! We rode much faster, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there were moments when I doubted I could stick with them for the whole 100 miles (this might have been in part because the first 25 or so miles, until we went down the far side of Mount Cube towards Wentworth, were in the rain, which was pretty discouraging). But in Haverhill, when I realized that we had already covered 50 miles, things started looking up. I knew I could ride the next 40 miles, which were basically flat, with Sara. Hills were my real problem. So we rolled along, taking turns leading and joining up with two other riders (whom we didn’t know) to make a 5-person pack. It was fun. It even stopped raining and turned into a nice day, and the scenery was beautiful: acres of farm fields in Woodstock, Newbury, Bradford, Fairlee, and Orford.

When we made it to Lyme, we were almost home. Just 12 more miles left. Unfortunately for me, we faced more hills, too. It’s not that they were big hills in any sense of the word, but for some reason my legs just weren’t with me yesterday. Sara and Ed dropped me at one point and it took me a while to catch up on the downhill – just like in the Tour de France, if you’re one rider trying to catch a group, it’s tough work.

In the end, though, we rode into Hanover together, triumphant, tired, and covered completely in sand and road grime. We munched on pizza and burritos, drank chocolate milk, and caught up with Sara’s parents and their adorable puppy, Cider.

Remember how white this jersey was in the first picture? I'd never worn it before. Not so shiny and new anymore!

Remember how white this jersey was in the first picture? I'd never worn it before. Not so shiny and new anymore!

I’m proud of myself for riding 100 miles in the rain, and sticking with Sara and Ed even when my legs felt like rubber. But I’m much more proud of my mother.

She’s the one standing next to me in the top picture. My mom has ridden the 20-mile loop numerous times, but she doesn’t really like biking. Last year she volunteered instead of riding. But this year, she decided to do the 35-mile loop. To get ready, she’s been riding her bike to work (15 miles) twice a week, and I think she’s even starting to like it. Yesterday morning, her riding partners bailed at the Lyme support station and decided to do 20 miles instead, because of the rain. So my mom rode on, by herself, and finished the longest ride she’s ever done in her life.

I like to think that my grandmother would be proud of both of us. Mommom, this was for you.

Photos: a day in the life of a full-time ski racer.

I read somewhere that in order to develop a readership for your blog, you should only ever write about one thing. That way, people know what to expect and won’t be disappointed when they come looking for one topic and find something completely unrelated.

Well, I haven’t followed that rule, have I? I write about what I do and what interests me. And in any given day, that can be a lot of things. I wanted to share, visually, one day in my life, so that you can see what it’s really like. I was lucky enough to get Pepa to take some pictures of our workout this morning to start us off.

Click photos to enlarge.

At 9 a.m., we headed out on a 90 minute rollerski, classic, with ~23 minutes of threshold in the middle.

Threshold means working hard, but not too hard. This wasn’t a time trial although the course was identical to our usual time trial course. You don’t want to build up lactic acid in high quantities, but rather work at a level just below that, where your body can clear the acid quickly and efficiently. Threshold should feel good, and today it did for me (some days I’m tired and it doesn’t). The tape on my arms is to combat tendonitis in my elbows, which I developed to a debilitating degree last summer from the impact of my pole tips hitting the pavement. I’m considering getting cortisone injections this year. Also, I’m not sure if you can tell, but my poles are bright pink. I spray-painted them: no more boring black! It cheers me up every time I ski.

It started pouring as we were skiing back to our cars. It was a hot day, though, so the rain felt good.

The Craftsbury Public Library was having a used book sale, so Lauren and I drove up before lunch. I came home with three books I had bought at the sale (for $5 total), one which had come in on interlibrary loan, and two movies we had picked out to borrow. But when will I have time to read all these books?

After lunch I baked the loaf of sourdough which I had started before our rollerski. When I bake, I usually make two large oval loaves, but with the boys away in Bend, we’ll go through bread much slower. Anna has a really nice round brotform which she lets me use, as well as a lame.

In the afternoon, we had practice with our elementary school skiers. Algis Shalna, one of the US Biathlon Team coaches and a former Olympic gold medalist for the Soviet Union, was on hand to teach the kids about biathlon.

Shooting was the exciting part. Not being a biathlete, I was there to direct the kids in a bounding workout in between their shootings. It was very hot and I felt bad asking them to bound up the hill three times before they could go back to shoot again. But not too bad… you have to toughen them up a little!

After a quick break to put my feet up and recover from standing around in the sun and the 80 degree heat, I headed out for my second workout of the day, a 2-hour bike ride. I traipsed about for 33 miles, touching at least the corners of Craftsbury, Wolcott, Hardwick, and Greensboro.

I got the chance to appreciate some beautiful scenery on my ride, like these happy cows in a green, green field.

I was late for dinner because my ride took so long – I swear the same route didn’t take 2 hours last year. Lauren had done a shorter ride, but she had also shot with Algis earlier in the afternoon. We were both exhausted. Dinner was heavenly, thanks to the dining hall staff: roast beef, braised chard, a rice-nut loaf, baked potato, the usual excellent salad bar. The cooks had made homemade ice cream, too, in cardamom ginger, maple vanilla, and chocolate flavors, to be topped with chocolate sauce and raspberries. They really outdid themselves this time.

We were both exhausted, but managed to drag ourselves to a birthday party for one of the staff members. They burned a hollow log, which they stood up like a chimney; it burned from the inside out, throwing a large flame out the top. I forgot my camera, but the way the millions of sparks flew out and into the night sky, dancing around on the breeze, was beautiful. They all landed on in the grass, and I couldn’t help but feel lucky that the lawn didn’t catch on fire. There was also a very delicious pistachio cake from the Edelweiss Bakery in Johnson.

Every day is different, and not every day is a Saturday, but this is a taste of my life. For some full-time athletes, being an athlete is enough. But for many of us, it is not enough, and we have to pursue our other interests at least to some extent. We have to remain human, not become physiological machines, and we have to balance ourselves mentally. That’s why you’ll find me writing about baking and farming and the environment and pretty much anything that pops into my head.

Oh, and isn’t Vermont beautiful?

Maybe it is about the bike, actually

Lance Armstrong says that it’s not about the bike. I don’t know if he’s telling the truth though.

My last week was framed by two rides. On Monday afternoon, my roommate and I spun up route 132, over the hill from South Strafford into Sharon, and back along the river on Route 14. I rode with the understanding that I was hurting myself by spending these three hours on a bike instead of at a desk working on my thesis, but I didn’t care.

Riding bikes with girls is refreshing. I could have written a column last week that was called, “riding on bikes with boys,” and would have said how tired and sunburned I got, and how I never wanted to give up and be slower than the boys. I’m too competitive, and when someone is actually better than me, it leads me to exhaustion.

But Monday, that wasn’t a problem. Kristin and I don’t compete with each other. Not going up the hills, and not going down them, either. As we came down the hill into Sharon, we were followed by a logging truck. I tried to pull to the side, but with no shoulder and so much speed, I was worried about hitting the edge of the pavement. The logging truck had to wait for the curves to end. With boys, we would have had to race, and I would have been scared.

Kristin and I talked about school, our house, our team, boys, the economy, the future. The miles go fast when you’re talking, even if it isn’t anything particularly important.

She didn’t know the route, so as we rode I pointed out the things I grew up with: the Elizabeth Copper Mine, where my AP Environmental Science class did a lab in high school; the Strafford Saddle Shop, where my mom and I would drive every spring; the burnt-up parking lot that used to be Brooksie’s in Sharon, where we’d stop to get breakfast before going to Tunbridge.

It was the kind of ride where you feel the wind in your face without having to work for it. We basked in the sun and the green and the smells of spring, and the coolness rising from the river.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were not kind to me. I slept an average of three hours every night and spent the days frantically running statistics and trying to write them up coherently. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so isolated in my life. I’ve been solo backpacking and felt less alone.

I watched my friends go about their usual routines, going running and biking after class, making dinner together and going out at night, while I was stuck. I didn’t even get much sympathy; nobody seemed to notice I was missing. I began to wonder what it said about me as a person if nobody noticed that I wasn’t there. Everything bad anyone had ever said about me came back and I began to think it was all true.

So by Friday, I was ready for another ride, regardless of whether I should be doing work instead or not. I e-mailed the team asking if anyone wanted to join me. Nobody did. But that was all right. I could go my own pace.

I set out at 1 p.m., and after a half hour of biking up into Hanover Center, it started pouring rain. I thought about turning around, but then I hunkered down and kept pedaling. In a sense, this is what I had wanted: an outlet for my frustration and anger. Unlike the million thesis revisions I had been frantically completing, this was something I could control and overcome. It was just rain. I was stronger than rain. It wasn’t going to stop me.

About as soon as I got into that mindset, I rode out of the rain. The pavement smelled wet and warm and I only worried for a moment that it was greasy. Then I bombed down the hills on Dogford Road. The sun started to dry the rain off my jersey.

Being alone, I could pedal slowly while I daydreamed. So what if my heart rate was below 130 beats per minute and my new coach had told me I’d have to train 5 hours to make that pace worthwhile? Today was not about training. I didn’t have that luxury. It was about mental recovery.

So when I pedaled back into the rain, which was almost hail-like on Greensboro Road and left pink welts on my exposed arms, I thought about my ride, and the one on Monday. No, they weren’t about the bike. But what allowed them to be about anything else? In truth, the bike.

Sorry, Lance.

I try cycling.

Like many seniors, I have a mental list of things to do this spring, and I don’t mean chores like “apply for degree” or “present thesis”. it’s a list of fun things I have to do now before I run out of time.

Unlike most seniors, one of the things on my list was “do a bike race.” With Dartmouth hosting an Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference event this weekend, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to cross that off my list.

I’m not a bike racer. I’m a ski racer. Biking is my just-for-fun, endurance-but-not-on-the-training-plan activity. Like my teammates who tried their hands in Saturday’s team time trial and criterium, I didn’t train for this; I had been been on six rides before the race, and I hadn’t done anything aerobically taxing since my last ski race of the season.

I was also worried about riding in a “peloton”, since my bike handling skills are less than impressive. What if I caused a giant wreck or something?

And yet I found myself on Route 5 at 9 o’clock Sunday morning, cruising along with 40 other women. We were all chatting and laughing – I talked with my teammates, with Jennie Bender, a standout UVM skier who was doing her first bike race and didn’t even have clipless pedals, and with a nice girl from Colby who was impressed we rollerskied on the bad roads.

The pack periodically rearranged itself, but this was the first thing I noticed that was very different from skiing: for the first third of the race, nobody was racing. At all.

That would change. We rode up into Norwich, through town, and out Union Village Road. The pack collectively sighed and hunkered down, thinking, here come the hills… And come they did. There is nothing like a good hill to break up a pack (apparently). As girls dropped back, I found myself just out of the top 10, chasing a breakaway led by next year’s ski team captain Ida Sargent and Bates skier Caitlin Curran.

We were pretty strung out as we passed Maple Hill Road, and we certainly weren’t appreciating the scenery. By the time we got to Goodrich 4 Corners, I had joined a chase pack of five – two Army girls and two other Dartmouth racers, including outgoing ski team captain Courtney Robinson – in hot pursuit of the six-person lead pack.

Going up that last steep, the one with the “8% grade” sign, I panicked for a second. I was killing myself, and this was only halfway through the race! How was I going to do this a second time around? Then, unusually, I put that out of my mind and kept chasing. If I blew up later, well, I’d deal with it then.

We set up a paceline on Route 132, riding towards the river, but we were exhausted from the hills. We were working hard but staying exactly the same distance behind the leaders.

And then, as we turned onto Route 5 again, they came back to us. I have seldom been so relieved in a race as when I hooked onto the back of the lead pack and finally stopped pedaling for a few seconds. No more chase.

Unfortunately, the reason we had caught the leaders was that they had slowed down, and before long, the main pack engulfed our group. Another thing I don’t understand about bike racing: why work so hard when you’re just going to let everyone catch you anyway? In skiing, if you get a break, you live and die trying to keep it.

In any case, I enjoyed the recovery pace for a few miles, because I knew as soon as we hit the hills again the chase would be back on. And sure enough, when we looped back through Norwich and were deposited at the bottom of the hill, Ida took off again.

The field strung out, but I found myself with more or less the same chase pack I had been with on the last lap. Going up the hills, and down them, we weren’t consciously pacelining; instead, we were all going as hard as we could, and if that put us in the front of the pack, great, but sometimes it put us on the back.

The sensation in your legs which comes as a result of riding up long hills as hard as you can is pretty unique. I don’t think I’ve felt quite the same burn in any other sport. I kept imagining that it would be easier to stand up, but after three or four pedals I found myself back in the saddle. My legs had accumulated too much junk.

To finish, we had to cross the covered bridge below the Union Village Dam and ride up Academy Road, no easy task. At the bottom of the hill, I did something I’m usually ashamed of: I switched into my granny gear.

Going by Burnham Road, I was still riding with the two Army girls, and the rest of our pack had disappeared behind us. I warned them that the pavement was terrible.

I think that was the last time I thought of them for the next few minutes. Going up that hill, this is what I thought: this is the end. I have to keep my momentum going. Switch gears.

Yeah, that’s all. My head was empty. I felt like I was riding fast, maybe because I was passing the stragglers from the men’s race which had started 10 minutes before us. It’s perhaps the most competitively absorbed I’ve ever been in my life, a lesson I hope I can take back to skiing!

500 meters from the finish the Army girls passed me, working together. I tried to follow them but couldn’t. My legs were blocks of lactic acid. Dave Lindahl and his children were on the side of the road, shouting, “Go Dartmouth! This is your hill! You know this!” And I thought, no, this is not my hill.

With nobody close behind me, I was happy to forgo a sprint finish. I rolled across and saw Caitlin and Ida, and Courtney rolled in a minute behind me. After a few minutes we did a short cool-down, trying to spin the lactic acid out of our legs. Ida had ended up second to the Colby girl, Jennie 4th, Caitlin 5th, and I was 8th. That put four skiers in the top 8. Not bad for a sport we don’t train for or, really, understand.

Then Courtney and I spent the afternoon at various intersections, acting as course marshals for the afternoon races. We mostly soaked up the sun and reveled in the spring weather.

I had so much fun that I considered racing the next weekend at MIT. But I decided not to. For one thing, I want to keep this memory of how fun bike racing is, and I don’t want to ruin it. But this is just part of a larger idea: biking is the only sport I do where I’m not focused on competing. I want to keep it as something I always think is fun.

This weekend, mission accomplished.