I admit, I like the title of this week’s column for the subtle pun-iness of it: I’ve gotten my “inner racer” back, and done so while spending a heck of a lot more time rocking a racer-back sports bra under my jersey, or, in the case of the past few days of this heat wave, rocking the sports bra solo with bib shorts rolled down, purposely created a “faux muffin-top” style in order to stay breezy. Looking cool is not nearly as important as being cool(er), and if you follow any East Coast cyclist on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably already heard us bemoaning the soaring temperatures that plagued our coast for the past week.
But this is by no means a post complaining about the temperature. This is partly because I made a pact with some higher power back in December at the start line at Nationals that if it would just warm up, I would never complain about the heat again. Not really sure the higher power came through on that, exactly, but the point stands that I would rather have it be boiling than freezing, so I will gladly suffer through this heat wave and only secretly yearn for the crisp breeze that hails the start of cyclocross season.
But the weather is far from my point of this week’s column. Rather, this is all about my new mantra, which seems to be, “train, stretch, eat, sleep, repeat.” Thanks to my Cycle-Smart coach keeping tabs on me, I’m starting to morph back into “real racer” mode. I’m sleeping more, eating better, taking care of my bikes, actually stretching after rides and above all, riding how I should be riding.
I have a confession to make: a few weeks ago, I made the claim that it was time to harden up and start training. Well, after following coach’s orders for the past week, I realized something. What I was doing wasn’t hardening up and training, despite what I may have thought. I was content just riding my bike along the towpath, or hitting the trails with friends. And sure, parts of it were challenging. However, I wasn’t training with any real point to training. Now, I’m following directions to the letter (or number, as it were) and doing the 12 sets of sprints during the two hour ride, noting my heart rate along the way. Then, I come home and rather than dumping the bike and plopping on the couch, I’m taking care of myself and my bike. Of course, that’s not always easy in a small apartment, as you can see. But we (meaning my bike and I, of course) make it work.
After stretching and foam rolling and making sure Natasha (my bike’s name — my pit bike is Boris) is clean and happy, then it’s time to eat a healthy dinner. This is strange for me, because usually a bike ride, especially a long one, means some kind of food reward. While I’m not giving up any particular indulgence, I’ve started eating my fruits and veggies, like I promised to in this column a few weeks back. And you know what? I feel better. I feel like a real bike racer.
Of course, being a real racer would be easier if my bikes would stop falling apart. Has this ever happened to anyone else? It starts small: a bar end plug goes missing, so that ends up on the “grocery list” for your next trip to the bike shop. Still, that’s an easy fix. Then, your Power-Tap starts to go wonky. You hope fervently that it’s just the computer not being pushed down hard enough onto the mount, or maybe the torque needs to be zeroed, whatever that means. But after talking to tech support, you realize that the torque tubes (seriously, what are they?!) are shot and need to be replaced to the tune of $350. Oof. So, the road bike gets put back on the rack for the moment as you take your cyclocross bike down, thinking, “well, now’s the time to get used to this.” Then, mid-ride, the front derailleur mysteriously migrates a few degrees to the side, effectively jamming your chain, which leads to the discovery that, through no fault of your own, the chain was put onto the bike incorrectly. You find this out because, while applying force against it in an attempt to ignore the derailleur’s cries for help, the chain snaps. You shuffle your way up an incredibly steep climb complete with thorn bush barriers, shouldering your bike in defeat, then sit on the roadside waiting for your ride home. Sound familiar? I hope not.
I should make this clear: I have bad luck with things with wheels. I have never had a road trip go smoothly (ask Donny about getting all four of his tires replaced en route to that race in Ohio), and I have a) crashed because I ran over a piece of Styrofoam, and b) I have flipped in a pothole, literally ripping my frame into two separate pieces (though the tire never flatted and the wheel stayed true.) Lady Luck is not my friend when it comes to things with wheels. Knock on wood, I’ve managed to do decently as far as mechanicals go in races, especially if you ignore the season I raced cyclocross on a singlespeed bike. And by singlespeed, I mean a bike that just wouldn’t shift so I had to manually “set” it before each race. It’s really more the journey where I have the trouble.
But thanks to the lovely men at my local bike shops — Efinger Sporting Goods and Kim’s Bike Shop — I’ve been up-and-running in record time, though I think at this point when I darken the doorway of either establishment, the staff lets out a collective groan, because inevitably, I’ve done something incredibly dumb. They’re always nice about it, and have been incredibly helpful, which is why I’ll make my final point here: if you want to race cyclocross, one of the absolute best things that you can do to improve your ride quality is to find a local bike shop that you like and get to know the staff. It will work wonders for your riding, because if you take the time and get to know the guys who fix bikes all day, they’re more likely to point out when your seat is pointed way too far up (she wrote from recent, uncomfortable experience), or that your tires are looking a little worn, or that your handlebars are slightly uneven — even if all you came in for was some new water bottles.
So next time you’re in your bike shop, be nice. And while you’re at it, if you have a coach, be nice to him. Otherwise, he might tack on a couple extra weeks of base to your training. And no one wants that.
So tell me: what makes you click into “racer mode”?
If you want to read more about my training, racing and editing exploits, you can find the painfully full version of events here: Molly’s CX Adventures.