VO2 and Lactate Test at TRIO

There are people who love numbers and data. And, for better or worse, I am one of them. There certainly is something liberating about going out for a ride or run with no power meter, heart rate monitor, Garmin, or even watch. I’ve done it once or twice, but in general I’m a big fan of using data to reach peak performance. I’m one of those people that will have a near meltdown if she loses her ride data. It’s not just because I’m a wee bit obsessive and perfecting in everything I do. And it’s not just because I have to see it to believe it. It’s also because I find great value in those numbers. And that value increases exponentially if you know what those numbers mean in reference to YOUR body. I’ve always used 20 minute power tests on Mandeville Canyon to estimate my power and heart rate training zones. ESTIMATE using formulas that assume my body and it’s response to work correspond with the norms. However, my body doesn’t run by a formula, and so I decided it is time that my training and nutrition don’t either. Enter TRIO, the best sports science testing and training facility I’ve seen.2With the VO2 and lactate test performed on my Fuji bike in the TRIO lab, I was able to test the oxygen content of my lungs and lactate level of my blood to determine how much fat and carbs I burn at every workload as well as my aerobic efficiency and anaerobic capacity. With some analysis, Coach Gareth at TRIO gave me precise training zones and indicated what areas I need to target for improvement. My coach and I are no longer estimating when my body starts to produce exponentially more lactate and rely almost purely on carbs for energy, now we KNOW at what workloads these responses occur. This enables me to train in a way that targets the appropriate physiological responses and to fuel these workouts effectively. In addition to helping structure my training and nutrition, this first VO2 and lactate test serves as a baseline from which we can measure progress. In particular, we would like to see it rely more on fat for fuel. By retesting in a few months, we will be able to see if the changes we make in my training/nutrition are effective.1I’ll never fully understand my body. It’s always presenting my coach and I with new surprises. But with the testing at TRIO, we get a glimpse inside that helps us understand how to effectively work WITH my unique body and ultimately reach peak performance.

Race Report: Sea Otter

Stage 1: Crit
Our game plan for the 50 minute hotdog shaped crit full of tight corners that create an accordion effect and series of jumps was quite simple: We needed to have one of our three racers, Patricia Schwager, Kendall Ryan or myself, represented in any dangerous break. We hoped that if one of these breaks stuck, it would be Kendall contesting the sprint, but we were all ready to work in a break. Break after break we joined or brought back until Kendall got away with Denise Ramsden of Optum, Lex Albrecht of Twenty16, and Amy Charity of Vanderkitten. From that time on, Patricia and I controlled the front, either riding tempo or following anyone trying to bridge, and we were very happy to see the break gaining time on the field. We were even happier to hear that our Kendall had taken the win!

I didn’t feel great, but I was happy with my effort and how well our trio worked together. It’s always fun when your legs and mind feel sharp. But the reality is that a whole host of factors can make that far from the case on any given day, and yet your team still needs you to go give your best at the moment. When each team member does that, and especially when your team comes out with the win, you can only finish smiling and looking forward to the next day.

Stage 2: Road Race
This 48 mile race consists of five times around a 7.8 mile loop that gains 780 feet each lap as you power up some punchy climbs. I knew those were where a break was likely to go, and I also knew that was where I was likely to be hurting bad enough that I would think twice before following a move. Twenty16′s full roster ready to attack and counterattack gave me the feeling I would be working hard.

All of my pre-race feelings were correct. Dotsie Bausch attacked early and got away solo putting over a minute on the field. Obviously we wanted to bring her back, but with just three of us representing Team TIBCO, we were also careful not to waste energy. Our goal was to bring Patricia Schwager to the final climb fresh, but midway through the race she told me to conserve a bit as we might need me at the end. I stayed up front and followed any attempts to bridge and chase, but I did not actively contribute to the efforts. Finally, going into the final lap, the pack caught Dotsie, and of course Twenty16 sent off counterattacks with Alison Tetrick making the decisive move that allowed her to finish the final loop and take on the 1.6 mile climb to the finish all alone. That had to feel good! Back in the pack, we were soon neutralized and later some of us tried to attack, but entering the final climb we were one big bunch. Twenty16 sent riders to the front that did a beautiful job of keeping the pace strong into the headwind. With 1k to go, the field was down to a select group, and the attacks picked up. I didn’t have the legs to follow, but could slowly bridge only to watch yet another attack go. Lex Albrecht came to the line second to Ali who had finished minutes earlier, and I crossed the line seventh overall and realized I had been racing a rear flat…that’s some bad luck, but it happens to everyone from time to time.

Stage 3: Circuit Race
Our trio rolled up to the 75 minute circuit race with some of us excited for the climb and others for the corkscrew descent that we would face each lap. We were all hoping to get away in a break, but we also knew that bringing Kendall fresh to a pack finish was an option. Of course, I wanted a result for my team and possibly even myself, but all I really hoped for were good legs and a fighter spirit. Although a mechanical and no free laps meant I was essentially out of contention, I walked away happy with myself because my legs and spirit had the most fight I’ve seen from them in a long long time. I held on mostly solo for about 50 minutes, battling the frustration that my efforts couldn’t go toward helping my teammates that didn’t have their best day. However, Kendall Ryan and Patricia Schwager also fought hard coming in 9th and 10th respectively.

Race Report: San Dimas Stage Race

SDSR was my season opener and Team TIBCO’s first race together in the US. We knew it would take a great team effort to get any results, and this was perfect because one of the main goals of our team right now is to get to know each other so we can harness our strengths and continue to improve as a team throughout the season. For me, coming off a fractured trochanter in December and dealing with compensation injuries that halted my training the last three weeks, I wouldn’t have made it through the weekend without incredible support in so many forms. Standout physical therapist Mark Payares, my director, mechanic, teammates, Coach Peterson, mentors and family are what made SDSR such a positive experience despite some disappointments.

Stage 1: 4.25 mile TT

I think I expended more nervous energy leading up to this TT than I did during the effort itself. Climbing is my strength, and this TT climbs 1257 ft. I was excited and hopeful for a great result, and then totally disappointed. Of course, when you don’t perform as well as expected, you look at what factors may have contributed so you can do better next time. But, honestly, I can’t pinpoint or blame one thing, I just didn’t have it in me that day. My lungs, legs, and heart rate said I gave it my all, and that’s what I would need to continue to do in the next two stages. Because, as my teammate told me, even when you aren’t performing at the level you would like, you still have to go out there and be the best you can be “in the moment” because that’s how you keep improving and how you give the most you possibly can for your team. With no top TT times, we would not be going for a GC result, but we would be aiming to race hard and smart as a team with our eyes on a stage win.

Stage 2: road race

As our director always reminds us, racing is unpredictable. Our start was delayed as they checked that the dam was safe given the earthquake the night before, and then we were off for 49 miles. On the fourth lap, QOM jersey and stud climber Karol-Ann Canuel of Specialized-lululemon attacked on the QOM climb. As she was off the front solo, the mottos stopped our chase group of about 20 so the Cat 4 men could pass and finish. Again, racing proved to be unpredictable. We executed our race strategy as best we could, but we were unable to bring back Karol-Ann who crossed the line solo with Leah Kirchmann of Optum winning the field sprint and Sara Headley coming up with 7th for us. Of course we were hoping to place higher, but given that we all raced our hearts out and followed our race plan, we walked away proud of our effort.

Stage 3: crit

Time to put any frustrations behind us, and go race for a win. This was my first crit and real taste of high speed since August, so my initial goal was just to get comfortable in a position where I could eventually help the team. To my surprise, I actually found the 55 minute crit pretty fun and was able to follow some attacks. With our team and others attacking and covering, it was all together with 2.5 laps to go when Patricia attacked and got away solo. Specialized-lululemon and Optum chased and formed a small gap that Scotti Wilborne closed followed by Sara Headley and Kendall Ryan. With one lap remaining, the field bunched and Sara led Kendall to the front, dropping her off at the top of the climb. Going through the finish, Kendall was second wheel and threw her bike to come oh so close to the win as Leah Kirchmann of Optum took the win hot off the strong Optum lead out. We were again proud of how we came together and how Kendall who went for it despite some tough luck (flat) the day before.

Sometimes you don’t have your best results individually or as a team, and sometimes you can still walk away proud of your effort. Team TIBCO, including myself, is building and excited for the upcoming races.

The Dark Side

I sat in my coach’s car, asking things like: “are we going to the hospital, my house, or your house?”, “when will I be able to get on my trainer?”, and my personal favorite “this is the dark side of the sport, huh?” My coach Ron Peterson, having scooped me up off the bike path after I refused the ambulance ride, confirmed that yes, crashing is the dark side of the sport. When Brandon asked me if I would like to write a blog post about my crash, my initial reaction was “oh no, this is not the sort of thing we share.” For every high in sport, there seems to be an equal low. Because it would seem misleading to write about only the good, here is the low that I’ve experienced for the last month. 

I was cruising down the bike path in my aero bars on a quiet morning when I saw a child and his mother riding single file and let them know that I would be passing. As I begun to pass in the other lane, allowing what I thought was a safe distance, the child suddenly went to make a U-turn. I had nowhere to go, no time to react other than yelling “what the ____!” Next thing I know, I slam on the round bone just below the hip. Turns out I fractured that bone, the trochanter. But at the moment, I didn’t know how badly I was hurt. All I knew was that I wasn’t taking a $1700 ambulance ride to sit in the hospital being poked with needles. So some minutes later, I was still in the bike path, attached to my bike, and on my phone calling Ron. While he drove down, I had the good fortune of my friend who is an ER doctor passing by and offering her help.

Then the choices began. People tell you that you have no choices or control with injuries. The healing will take its time and course. Ron knows I need choices, I need to feel like I am in control even when I am not. First the choice of how to get to his car, then where to go. The choices ended when I stopped being rational and pleaded not to go get X-rays. After getting those, my dad brought me back home where my family tried to move me onto a mattress in the entry way. The pain was too excruciating, and my body began to go into shock. My mom thought I might die, and I honestly didn’t know if I could take it. So I called Ron and told him just that. A quick chat latter and we had me covered it blankets and resting ion the floor. With the exception of a visit to an orthopedic surgeon the next day, for a week, I would not move from a mattress in that entry way. Not to eat, not to drink, not to go to the bathroom. It was Percocet every 3 hours and my family showing the kind of love that only they could.

After just over a week, I was back to the ortho who cleared me for physical therapy with Mark Payares and for easy rides on the trainer. Ride time! You have no idea how excited I was. Until I crawled on my trainer and tried to pedal. At first, I couldn’t get over the top of the pedal stroke without stopping in immense pain. But day by day the rides got longer and stronger and the pain got less frequent and less severe. I had a choice, and I chose to ask my body for a little more as it would give signs that it could. I could have waited until I was pain free to ride, it might have been wiser, but it wasn’t the choice I made.

One month post crash, with Mark’s physical therapy, hellish and happy moments, support of too many riding friends to count, endless love from my family, and some part of me that I will never understand that says the highs are worth these lows, I’m happily riding  2+ hours on my Kurt Kinetic trainer each day and taking pride in the little victories like graduating from mattress to wheelchair to walker to crutches to one crutch. Because you do have a choice: you can choose to be miserable and hate the world because you are a bit broken or you can choose to be grateful for the opportunity you have to do what you love despite its dark side.

Lesson #3: Don’t Forget Your Good Days

As I start my base training with Ron Peterson and my bodywork with Mark Payares, my focus has shifted to looking ahead to 2014. There are countless lessons that I learned in my neo-pro season with Team TIBCO, but there is just one more that I would be remiss if I did not share: don’t forget your good days.

I was warned that when making the jump to NRC/Pro level racing, it could be a bit of a mental shock. You are no longer riding away from the field to take the win solo. You might be struggling at the back, a bit lost mid-pack, or on a good day in the lead group. So, I was prepared to be crushed by my idols that would now also be my competition. I was mentally ready to cope with not winning, not even being in the lead group, because the other racers were just flat out better or because my role among the team didn’t have that in the plans. What I wasn’t prepared for were my bad days. How it would feel if I couldn’t do what I needed to for my teammates, if I couldn’t climb like I usually can, if I struggled to handle my bike even as well as my limited skills allow. I was prepared to suck in comparison to the Olympians and National Champions that I would race, but I was not prepared to suck in comparison to myself.

With the transition to Team TIBCO and NRC racing came many challenges. And some of those I didn’t handle in a way that would have had me racing the best that I could have for the team. After my first race as a pro, Road Nationals, I was crushed. Totally and completely crushed. Never had I hurt so much, fought so hard in a race, and yet performed so terribly. I understood what I needed to do in the race, but I simply couldn’t. I hadn’t taken care of myself as well as I could have while adjusting to all the new dynamics, and it showed on the bike. My director doesn’t lie, so you can bet he told me something along the lines of “you have to do better than that, you have to work on…” but he also told me “you ARE better than that.”

For every time that I was told that I didn’t exactly nail something, I was also reminded of my good days. I remember hearing “don’t forget that you DO have what it takes, you CAN race with the best.” People never let me forget the climbs that I flew up with the lead pack, the races that I cornered with relative ease, the wins at the regional and personal level. They never stopped believing in me, so I never stopped believing in myself. That, combined with working on my weaknesses, allowed me to have more good days at the end of the season. Those days still showed room for improvement, more mistakes made and more work to be done. But those days also make me continue to trust my coach, mentors, teammates, DS, and the many others who help me believe in myself.

Lesson #2: Racing as a Unit

Prior to joining Team TIBCO, I knew that cycling is a team sport. But I didn’t really appreciate what this meant and how it would impact my mental game. On a regional level, oftentimes a team simply means you wear the same kit, maybe see each other on some group rides, and give each other encouragement and congrats. If you are lucky, as I was on the SPY-GIANT-RIDE team, then you may have at least some teammates attempting to put into action a team strategy that might even require them to sacrifice their own result to have a teammate finish on top. At the pro level, the amount of team strategy far surpasses what I can fully understand with my limited race experience, and it doesn’t even make sense to call carrying out your part in it a “sacrifice” because the whole team races as a unit and wins or loses as one. With a “job” to do, it was easy to start to feel like I was going to perform a task, not to race. What I came to learn is that: I am still racing, only now I am racing as a unit not as an individual.   

Given that I joined a team with racers who are far more developed than I am, I totally expected to be given a “job” in the races. But I didn’t foresee how it would change how I felt going to the start line. It was not long before it started to feel like I was going to the line simply to perform a task, not to race my bike. True, I had things to accomplish at certain times during the races. And yes, I knew my personal result in the races did not matter in the least. BUT what I came to realize in my final race of the season with my teammates is that because your “job” is always in the context of a race, you have to be in that frame of mind. Bike races are dynamic and unpredictable, so you might find that in doing your job you wind up in a position that you didn’t expect. Maybe you are covering an attack and you end up in a break. Now what? It’s not going to help to think back to your “job” that ended miles back, nor is it going to help to think “how can I maybe get to the line ahead of at least most of the women back there?” For me, as a rider very much in the development stage, it helps to think of the race with each team being a player and think how can I make another PLAYER work. Think race strategy, but with each team being one unit.

After my final race of the season with Team TIBCO, I did a few local races solo. Not because I “needed” personal results, but rather because (1) the more race experience the better, and (2) I felt like I was beginning to forget what it is like to RACE. To think “how can I win?” even in a race where my chance to come out on top are slim. But having completed those regional races and reflected on the season, I realized that what’s important is not never forgetting how to race for the win but rather learning how to go to the line feeling like you are racing for the win even when that is in no way tied to your personal result.

After the races, my director and teammates, especially Claudia Haeusler and Shelley Olds, were so good about explaining how my role in the race impacted our team result and GC racer’s workload. And I remember in many pre-race team meetings at Cascade hearing “we win or lose this tour as a team. It’s not Claudia win or lose. WE win or WE lose this tour. She can NOT do this alone.” I believe it is Jade Wilcoxson who said it should have been her whole team on the podium when she won the Road National Championships. When you understand that your job is not just the one explained in the team meeting but rather is to be part of a unit that is RACING to win or lose as one, then you will go to the line mentally ready to RACE!

Lesson 1: Feelings vs. Reality

I’ve begun my off-season from what felt like two seasons. The first was the races that I did with the women’s SPY GIANT RIDE team that Michael Marckx, CEO of SPY, so generously worked with me to form and nurture. It started on January 26 with a win at Poor College Kids RR and ended with another win at Devil’s Punchbowl RR on May 11. What felt like the second season began in mid-May when I joined Team TIBCO, and it ended with the Brentwood Grand Prix on August 4. How quickly I made such a big jump, from racing regionally on a club team my first season to racing nationally with the winners of the overall NRC Best Team my second season, make the lessons I learned quite vivid. I know, and never forget, that there are many talents out there that are striving to reach a higher level and might like a glimpse into the experience I had as a neo-pro. So, one by one, I’ll share some of what I’ve come to realize having made the transition.

What you FEEL is not always the reality. Recognizing that how I feel in a race is usually more symptomatic of my own weaknesses rather than the actions of the peloton or my bike has helped me start to do the work to become a better racer. I thought of this when a racer rolled up to me after the Brentwood Grand Prix. She said something along the lines of “All the women were cutting me off in the corners. It’s crazy.” And she was not pleased with the OTHER racers. Considering that she is not a wheel that I would exactly choose to be on, I told her that a good portion of the field is incredibly experienced with skills that far surpass ours and she might want to be careful what she says. Let’s just say her reply indicated that she was still certain it was all the other riders causing problems, not perhaps her own skills. To an extent, that was me a year ago or even more recent than that. I felt like other riders were pushing me into the gutter, riding me off the course, about to bump into me, and nearly taking me out in corners. When I made the jump up to NRC level races, I found that the women ride even closer and what I think is not enough room for a single rider is enough for two in that peloton. It was I, not the other races that had an issue.

The list of goes on…I felt like the person holding me for the start of a time trial was leaning me to the side such that I would fall over when he let go. Not only did I feel this way, I actually fell over at a couple starts. But again, the problem wasn’t the way the starter held me, it was a whole collection of things that I did at the start (no pressure on the pedals, choice of gears, etc). I also felt like the deep(er) dish Reynolds wheels that Team TIBCO put on my training bike were catching enough wind to make me fall over. In fact, I was trying to react to every element with my handlebars rather than my weight. My teammate, Shelley Olds, told me on our first ride together that believe it or not we actually ride these wheels because they are faster! And “you are a strong athlete, you can control your bike.” What? It’s me, not the wheels? She was correct, and I am now quite happy training on my Reynolds Assualt wheels. But I must say, I get pretty excited to put my Reynolds Thirty Two Tubulars on come race day. I am a climber after all. The same goes for every new piece of equipment I got. I swore my Fuji bike wouldn’t turn to corner, and then Ron Peterson fit me to it and I found that it handles beautifully. Problem solved, by fixing the rider not the top-of-the-line equipment.

Looking back on it, what I should have told that racer when she complained about the other women was to take a closer look at how she can make herself feel comfortable in the corners. The racers are going to keep racing just the way they do, but she can work on her skills to be a steady part of the peloton rather than an angry individual. My riding got a whole lot better when I learned to take a look at myself as a racer rather than blame things like the equipment, other racers, and course profile. I also might have told her that immediately after a heated race is maybe not the ideal time to ask questions or complain to other racers, but that’s a whole other lesson that I learned by trial and error.