Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I'm all about friendly competition. But this time, it's not on the bike.

My friend and fellow graduate of The University of CO Health Sciences, Alli, is holding a little contest over at Don't Panic Mom. She gathered together a bunch of us veg heads to write for her blog, and to post recipes for her readers to attempt. Readers are rating us on the following criteria:
Easy to Find Ingredients
Ease to Prepare (e.g. you don’t need special equipment).
The winner will be dubbed 
So, head on over and vote. For me. (Okay...or anyone else. Whatever.)
Here is the schedule of posts:

Monday, January 28, 2013

I sometimes write for LiveWell Colorado, an anti-obesity and public health campaign in this state. Generally, I don't cross post my writing since my work for LiveWell is pretty specific in nature... But I like this post, and I think many of the women I know can relate.
My body and I have a long history. It’s a story of loyalty and betrayal, of adventures and near-misses, of love and, yes, loathing.
We’ve been together for 34 years and, during that time, my body has let me down more than once. It embarrassed me at age four when, in the middle of a ballet recital, its awkwardness was cause for my instructor to tell my mother that I was “hopelessly lacking in grace.” In junior high, it was too boxy and boyish. It was unsympathetic to the curves of the other girls, and I had to hide it under baggy sweatshirts and loose-fitting tops. Somewhere around my teens, it decided it wanted curly hair. I resisted that with flatirons and hairdryers, and scores of thick, waxy products. Ultimately, it won that battle, and I was left to embrace those little brown ringlets. In my 20s, my body committed the ultimate act of betrayal, and my pancreas stopped producing insulin. My body and I will spend the rest of our time together with Type I Diabetes.
Of course, that same body also managed some amazing feats. During a particularly unfortunate phase in the late 80s, it endured hours of step aerobics in hideously shameful leotards. In my teen years, it eventually managed a pretty quick 500 freestyle in the pool. It stretched and adapted to carry two beautiful children. It nourished them throughout my pregnancies and after, as it made milk to feed them. My body was a devoted friend during three marathons, when she wanted desperately to call it quits, to slow to a crawl, and yet I forced her on to the finish. She has endured countless hours of training and racing. She’s crashed, bled, had a couple sets of stitches and one fractured arm, and never given up entirely.
Our bodies are glorious friends. We subject them to all manner of abuse: Starve them or force them to binge beyond reason, deprive them and belittle them, degrade them and hide them. Some women shame them, hate them, harm them. Still, throughout it all, they chase our dreams and grow old with us, keep the scars and lines that tell our stories and serve as our vessel as we enter the world.
In a culture where women’s bodies are so often misrepresented, it’s important to preserve the friendship between mind and body. I’m not sure when, exactly, women decide to turn against their skin and muscle and bone, and indulge chronic, negative self-talk.  I do know that it is both exhausting and, well, boring. All those mechanical reactions of disdain and disgust seem rather silly when paired with the ability of the body to accomplish amazing things.

The key, perhaps, in learning to tell our respective bodies how much we love them is found in using them well. Studies show that body dissatisfaction decreases significantly with exercise[1]. When you see what your body can do, when you allow it to feel good, you can’t help but allow your mind to follow along. You become more forgiving, and less tied to that cultural ideal of a “beautiful woman.” Two years ago, I weighed a lovely 122lbs., but my cycling suffered horribly for my slight physicality. Today, I race at just under 143lbs. I am faster, stronger and more muscular. In America, that thinner frame might be regarded as the prettier body, but I take great pride in my thick quads and calves, and the power they produce on a bike. My body is doing its job.
Today, I stand before myself in the mirror and see my boyish hips that carried my son and my daughter, my absurdly long arms that cradle the cat, my broad shoulders that can haul my bike over fences and stairs, my heavy legs which run faster than I ever imagined as a child. I love my body, and she has shown me time and again that she loves me in return. I tend to my body with the same love and care that I tend to the bodies of my two children as I kiss their bruises and bandage scraped knees. I remember that they watch my body and me as we go out into the world, and they hear how I talk to her when I see her reflection. I am filled with an authentic sense of gratitude at the ride we get to take together, as we find new adventures and accomplish our dreams.

[1] University of Florida (2009, October 9). Exercise Improves Body Image For Fit And Unfit Alike.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Little spin through Boulder County.
I decided to bail on the office for about three or four hours in order to celebrate 66F degrees in January (that's 18 degrees Celsius, Scully). Got in a nice 50ish mile ride during my workday!

Not feeling the love from this farm. So sad.

Descending from the top of McCaslin. More fun to ride down than up. I'm a notoriously poor downhill racer...so I'm working on that. My top speed this day was 52mph, which isn't too bad! I get sketchy because there is so much sand on the road from the gravel trucks trying to keep the winter ice at bay. It makes for some scary pavement in spots.

The bad part about winter is that I do mostly intervals, so my fuel supplies get depleted. I mean, who needs Blocks for an hour on the trainer, right? Devoid of good options, I snaked my kids Kids Cliff Ropes. Shhhh....

Quick stop to check the BGs. I usually test about every 45minutes to an hour on a hard ride, unless I feel lousy. An easy spin? Less frequently. I have a pretty good idea of where my blood sugar falls on the bike...but I also like the security of knowing. I use disposable meters, generally, so I don't have to worry if they get wet or lost.

Final MAX values. Nice watts. My average was significantly lower...about 160.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Threshold Test.

Many of you know all about this bit of agony.  The goal is simple: to find the glass ceiling of your performance. It takes in to account your Vo2 Max (or your maximum aerobic capacity), your heart rate and your Lactate Threshold (basically, the fastest pace you can maintain for 30 minutes without feeling like your legs are on fire).

Most people use Heart Rate as a gauge of effort when they are at the gym, working out. The problem is that your HR can be impacted by a lot of external variables, which have little to do with your efforts. How much sleep did you get, how much caffeine did you drink, are you sick or stressed, what is your resting heart rate...

Instead, it's a bit more effective to use an actual measure of effort on the bike (watts), and to set those parameters against your actual ability as opposed to some general calculation (the whole 225-your age business).

So, Saturday morning was an all-out sufferfest. I should say that I almost bailed. My head wasn't in a good place. I wasn't having a crisis of confidence, nor was I feeling particularly bad. Mostly, I was working through some unexpected and relatively minor changes to my racing, and I was wrestling with the internal dialogue that asks, How much does this really matter? I guess that's a question that all of us ask from time-to-time. Without getting too weighty, training takes an enormous amount of time from my personal life, and I am often forced to inquire if the opportunity costs are worth the rewards of what I get to do. Sitting in my kitchen, staring at my kids with my shoes in hand and feeling a bit dejected by recent events, I was really settled on finding an answer.

The answer was, This is what I know how to do. This is my clarity. My sanity.

And, you know, when you are going all-out for what seems like forever, you don't have the luxury of thinking too much.

I trotted off to the studio.

I got in a good 20 minute warm up. My legs felt a bit stiff, and I was regretting working out the day prior. At the same time, I was feeling strong, and I was really focused on getting an accurate result. I spent the next 30 minutes doing a Time Trial, bringing as much as I could to the effort. (The key, I think, is the little mantra I keep in my head: You've been here before. No matter how miserable I am in the moment, I know I've visited this space in the past, and I survived it.)

I think I got psyched out a bit by my coach who cautioned me not to start too hard. You need to pull the same watts at the end that you pull this first ten minutes. Pace yourself.

I didn't. I actually erred too far to the conservative end. My watts were lower the first ten minutes, and my highest numbers came the final eight minutes of the Time Trial. That shouldn't happen. At the same time, I feel comfortable saying that I left 95% of my efforts on the bike. I still felt I had some reserve at the end...also something that shouldn't occur.

My coach agreed. Looking at the numbers, they seem a bit low...but not too far off the mark.

I'd agree. Overall, I think I should have pulled about five to ten percent higher numbers across the board. Still, for January, my numbers were solid. My Power to Weight Ratio is sitting just under 4.0, which is where I'd like to be when I race in March. That's totally attainable. I sustained a HR of about 160BPM throughout which, again, is pretty good. And I conquered that little bit of doubt chipping away at my motivation. Better still.

Sunday should have been a nice rest day...but the weather was beautiful, and I still had some cobwebs to clear. I headed out on the bike for a 30 mile ride. The last ten miles were absolutely freezing, but the purpose of the ride was well served. I woke up this morning, back at the studio and ready to work.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I have this thing that I say to myself in times of difficulty...


Do, because knowing is not enough.

I think we always know what we should do. It's the doing part that catches us. People know they should exercise, eat well, watch less TV or skip the drive-thru. Executing that knowledge is the real challenge.

There's actually a name for this phenomenon: The Knowing-Doing Gap. If you study business or health administration, you know all about it. Companies hire consultants, dump all kinds of money and resources into studying ways to improve, line up employees at mind-numbing seminars and then?
Then do nothing. Implementation is hard, and so it's easier to dream without direction than to make something happen.
I had a crappy week. It started with my husband requiring a second surgery to fix some lingering nerve damage from his bicycle crash last June. Sedated Dennis is a recipe for disaster. The man is an anesthesia sponge, and so I spent a full day tending to a babbling fool doped up on pain meds. Again.
Then we got word that a friend had suffered the unimaginable loss of her 18 year old son. I cannot describe the heartache this family is enduring at the present time. I can tell you that, as a mother, there is a pull when you hear of the loss of a child. You feel drawn to cradle your own children until you can't inhale another breath.
In the middle of it all, though, I have to carve out time to train and do the work I need to accomplish. I've been getting good returns on my training thus far, and I refuse to cede any ground at this point. Plus, I have a fancy new Colnogo CLX3.0 hanging out in the house, which is motivation enough! (Never mind that it is currently 4 degrees Fahrenheit in Boulder, meaning I am riding said bike on rollers in my kitchen. It's actually kind of cruel.)
So, I'm doing the work. At the same time, I have to push aside the fears in my head that tell me I am not doing enough. I have the tendency to go back and re-examine my training plans, look at different tracks and wonder if they are better, worry and talk about worrying and worry some more, and then let that doubt compromise my efforts. Then, I come back to it: Reading isn't doing. Talking isn't doing. Get on the bike and focus on quality, not quantity.
Fear is probably what puts an end to most doing.
On a brighter note, I had begun to feel like I was hitting a plateau in terms of pushing my functional power and my endurance. This morning, however, I saw an awesome increase in my sprint speeds and cadence. A hopeful sign since my sprinting has always been a point of weakness. I am anxious to see how my indoor training is going to translate to time in the saddle once things thaw out and warm up a bit.
And, you know, when you are working hard enough, you really are only able to do. One of the things I have always liked about exercise is that I reach a point where I can only focus on the task in front of me. I push myself to a limit where the only this one thing can fill the space of my mind. Today was that kind of day. I was alternating between sprints and climbs, pushing myself to my threshold on every sprint set and then using the climb as a working recovery. It was misery. All I could do was watch my watts, focus on sucking in air, and trying to keep my legs moving. My only thought was to ask, Is this your 100%?
There's something kind of peaceful about being in the moment, and executing.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Like many Americans, my good friend recently resolved to drop some weight after the first of the year. She committed to eating better and working out no less than four times each week. She bought a treadmill and some sweet new kicks. And, this morning, she stood on the scale for the first time since December 31st:
I've only lost a pound?! No way! Sad panda.
She was disappointed, but not wholly dejected. She's got at least 50 pounds to lose before reaching the threshold of a normal BMI, and had hoped for better results after nearly two weeks of dedication. At the same time, she's a realist. She gets this will be a process.
I took a quick inventory of her efforts. Her plan is sound, and her nutritional habits are good. She's tracking calories and logging food intake. True to her resolution, she is working out four or five days each and every week. Here, however, is where things take a turn. Her "workout" consists of walking one mile on the treadmill, and then doing a lot of sit-ups, push-ups and light weights.
This is, of course, better than nothing at all. It's more activity than she is used to performing and, in time, it will pay some dividends. If she really wants to get some traction on weight loss, though, and see an improvement in her fitness, she is going to need to depart from the comfort zone of mild resistance training and a stroll on the treadmill. She's going to have to embrace being uncomfortable.
This is why people don't workout. It actually kind of drives me crazy when I hear people talk about "working out" in the context of "sipping Gatorade on a brisk walk." (It's locomotion. Not exercise.) Most people can exert themselves beyond the point they realize, even with a poor base level of fitness. Worse still is when the same group of individuals lament about weight loss or lack thereof. It's tough to tell someone that they are not working hard enough. But my friend? She's just not putting in the hard work.
The sensations of breathlessness and burning muscles, for example, correlate with the intensity of the effort. When you're out of shape, numerous receptors all over your body beg your brain to slow down. Your brain is trying to tell your body that you cannot maintain this kind of activity. As you work each system, however, fewer receptors holler for mercy because your body is no longer working so close to its maximum capacity. Eventually, the number of receptors screaming at your brain will level off, and more pleasant sensations will be able to rise to a conscious level. The signal that was once an emergency siren will become just a familiar signpost: I've pushed this hard before. I can handle it. It'll be OK.
But most people bail before they get to the happy place. They feel exhausted. They can't catch their breath. The sensation of true work produces anxiety, and it's simply more comfortable to hang out in the lower zones. This is actually the theory behind gyms like Curves, where women push to about 60% of their MAX. The idea is that a little activity will produce results for the more sedentary client, while not being so challenging as to make the client miserable, unhappy, fearful and unwilling to return.
This is also the reason that I squarely told my friend to get a trainer. She's not going to push her body toward fitness without one. Instead, she will continue to do what comes easier at the expense of her goals.
I have a power test in a week. Before I go in, I will have that same type of anxiety. I'll be nervous about how much it will hurt - about how much suffering I can take. I feel like that before races, too. But I also get the pleasure of athletics now in a way my friend cannot because, having attained a good fitness base, I can sample a number of sports and experience the various pleasures each has to offer.

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's winter. That means I'm indoors, riding a bike to nowhere. Sad trombone.
After a couple of seasons slumming it on crappy trainer in my kitchen, I decided to hit the rollers for a change of pace. Then, sometime around October, I hit a wall. A really big, hard, ugly wall.
It's normal to loathe the bike trainer. Anyone who doesn't is certifiable. And it's fine to spend eight minutes laying in bed, talking yourself in to facing another day of Sufferfest videos. It's perfectly okay to want to spend the "off season" sipping Hot Toddy's and watching the snow fall around you.
But there came this day in October when I could hardly muster the will to even look at the bike. Instead of being my outlet, my peace in the world and the place I most wanted to be, the saddle had become my nemesis. I suddenly found myself saying things like, Maybe I don't want to do this anymore.
I've always been a bit compulsive about exercise, anyway. I am downright pathological when it comes to reviewing my workout data, tracking my efforts, making sure I am getting in enough time at the gym, setting goals and slowly hacking away at each measure of my performance. My husband and kids long ago learned that few things come between me and a planned workout, lest everyone in the home be subject to my wrath. My mother, as she lay dying, told me she "knew it was bad" when I missed my morning cycling session to visit her, instead.
But this time, it was different. I wasn't just obsessive, I was miserable. Truly unhappy. My bike was a chore, and I was almost ready to walk away. Almost.
Then, I called Mari.
If you don't know Mari Ruddy, you should. For starters, she is another vegan-buddhist-diabetic-cyclist, and we area hard lot to find! More importantly, Mari was the brains behind the ADA Tour de Cure Red Rider program that celebrates cyclists with diabetes, and she is the founder of TeamWILD, a sports organization that teaches diabetic athletes of all abilities how to manage their blood sugar while optimizing performance in their respective sport. (http://teamwildathletics.com/)

Mari is also the most compassionate, enthusiastic cheerleader one could hope to find. And I needed a bit of cheering.
At some point in our conversation, the ever-gracious Mari tactfully suggested I speak to a sports psychologist or, at the very least, avail myself of a TeamWILD resource in the form of a talk by Carrie Cheadle, who specializes in Mental Skills Training for athletes.
I'm a bit of a tough sell. It's not that I oppose the idea of "mental skills training," it's just that it seems...for lack of better terms kind of namby-pamby. I'm not big on "talking things out." But Mari has a talent for making something seem like a good idea even when you have some deeply-seeded reservations, so I decided to stream Carrie's talk whilst finishing some work at the office.
This is the part where I might have to dig in to that plate of crow, feathers and all.

I'll spare you the details, but the essential question posed went something like this:
What is your source of anxiety before a race?
And, of course, we all have the same generic answers: Fear of failure, Fear of looking like an idiot, Fear of getting dropped and lapped, Fear of embarrassment or humiliation or not meeting personal expectations or mockery or insert whatever shame you'd least like to endure.
So far, not impressed. Fast forward to the next question: Why do you fear those things?
So this is where I start to see the Namby-Pamby train pull into the station, and I'm all set to disembark...but things don't go where I expect. I thought it was going to be destination Tell Me About Your Childhood Pain or Rejection so We Can Work Through Those Issues. But no! Carrie provided actual, useful, functional insight.
If you ask ten of your friends this same question, and really dive in to the root anxiety of athletic performance, people end up in one of two camps: A) I really don't think I have the capability to run a marathon/ride a century/win a race, and B) I don't trust my training. And the solution for both groups is pretty much the same.
Let me take a quick diversion here, while we delve in to the reasons I don't sing. Just work with me. When I was six, I was in music class, and we were rehearsing holiday songs for a little school performance. My music teacher, Mrs. Bow (but we can just call her "witch," because that's fitting, too) suggested to me that I should only pretend to sing because I pretty much sucked. I told my dad this heartbreaking story, and he laughed and then confirmed that I do, in fact, suck at all things musical. So, for the rest of my life, I have just known that I am a terrible, awful, horrendous singer. Of course, at six, no one is exactly Sinatra...so maybe I could have been a singer if I had ever really been trained or tried....but I always had this track in my head that said You are not a singer.
The people in Group A have the same track: You are not an athlete. Changing that track is all about finding the right training and resources, and setting realistic and attainable goals, and then knocking them out one at a time.
The good news? I am not in Group A. At least, not on the bike. And I could give a crap about singing now.
But I was firmly planted in Group B.
I have always been compulsive about my training because I've never been sure it's the right direction, or the right intensity, or that I am focusing on the right things at the right time. I had different trainers and coaches over the years, but I only ceded so much control to them because I never felt confident in their abilities. Basically, I doubted the process. Sometimes, that was legit. I wasn't training with the right people or using the right resources. Other times, I screwed myself by refusing to comply with their plans because I couldn't let go and trust. I told myself that I knew better.
All of the sudden, the problem became clear. I was making myself miserable and stressing over performance because I simply had not found the right resources and then let go.
That's probably true of most things in life. But back to the bike.
So, sometime in November, I settled on a group of trainers and coaches at Breakaway Cycle & Strength. They have been amazingly supportive of my goals, and have the expertise and focus to help me make steady improvements. They have also taken a dedicated interest in helping me to manage my blood sugar while on the bike, which is certainly outside the scope of my expectations and their job description, but I won't complain. In return, I have relinquished control. When they tell me to do a tempo ride, I don't ignore the direction and push myself to higher zones because it seems "useless" or "easy." When I'm told to push my cadence over 110, I don't tell myself that 90 is "good enough in a race." I do as directed, and I trust in the process. My functional power has increased but, more importantly, I am back to a place of balance. I love my bike. I can't wait for the snow to melt.
The key to success is really in finding the right people, accessing the right tools and resources, and getting the pieces to fall in place. I am so fortunate for Mari's guidance, and glad to have someone like her in my diabetic-athletic life. (And, of course, for those who need their own set of tools, check the TeamWILD website for your own stewardship courtesy of Mari and Carrie: http://teamwildathletics.com/)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I don't make New Year's Resolutions. I used to, but then I realized that they don't feel authentic to me.
Don't get me wrong, intention is a critical piece of living well and being mindful...but resolutions by their very nature are goal-driven. Goals are easily forgotten precisely because they ignore the intent behind attaining any given objective. 
Without intention, we wouldn’t do much of anything. In fact, all of our actions rely on some kind of intent, whether we are aware of that or not. For intention to work, you also have develop mindfulness, and to develop mindfulness you have to develop intention. In other words, they work hand in hand and you can’t do one without the other.
Resolutions fail because they don't originate from mindfulness or breakthrough. They are driven by a calender, a change of the season, the perception of rebirth or renewal and not by intention. There's no mindfulness is saying, "I wish to lose weight." The key, of course, is to be aware of the process of change without getting lost in the mental ball of string.  You have to know how the tape you play in your head influences action, and by examining the desires beneath the need for change, see what is driving intention in the first place.
I already work on those things most important to me. I keep myself in good health, I eat well and I exercise often. I am gentle with my children, and I meet their needs without losing myself.
So, I'm resolution-less. And that's a good thing.
But that's not to say that I have no ambition.
I've been working really hard these last couple of months to improve my functional power on the bike. It's going well. My Power/Weight ratio in October was a pathetic 2.72. As of last week, I was hovering around a Power/Weight ratio of 3.31. I've been training on pedal efficiency, too, which has been a real challenge for inefficient me. I've been busy doing a lot of high-cadence drills, and that has improved my stats on that end, as well.
Of course, the easiest way to raise your Power/Weight ratio is to drop some excess weight. This is where I get frustrated. The better my overall diabetes control, the more insulin I require, and the more weight I gain. I'm still in a plenty healthy BMI range (20.2)...but, like most women, I would love to lose about ten pounds. It's such a source of irritation to me. I realize that the blood sugar control trumps any cosmetic issue I might have, and that my performance on the bike would suffer far more if I had uncontrolled blood sugar, so I am dealing with it and trying to manage down a pound at a time.

Midori and I, splitting a low BG treat.

And, on the diabetes front, things are well. I have found this space where my blood sugar is where I want it most of the time. I still get robbed of the occasional good day, which in fact happened just yesterday - on New Year's Day. I was skiing with my kids, having a good time, enjoying the weather and a break from the bike...and then realized I was low. I checked: 44. Super low. I spent the next two hours trying to get myself back to golden, so I could keep skiing and playing with my kids. Those are the days when I get angry.
At the same time, I looked up and saw my son - the boy who we were once told would never run or play sports or even talk to us - ski triumphantly down the hill, without the aid of his parents and without the slightest inhibition. I am reminded every day that life is as much about overcoming as it is about enjoying the process and the intent behind our actions.