Coaches Need Coaches, Too

As a cycling coach, I often remind my athletes about the importance of having a mediation practice, working on their strength and conditioning, practicing yoga and keeping a journal on TrainingPeaks. I frequently check in with them and when one of those moving pieces starts to fall off of the radar, they start noticing imbalances on and off the bike.

And yet, when you focus on those self-care fundamentals, balance restores and all is right in the universe.

It’s easy to not do those things. I’ll get to it next week, you bargain. A week becomes a month, and next thing you know it’s been six months since you actively foam rolled. Or in my case, longer.

It’s easy to not do those things. They take time and energy! Once you fall out of your routine, it’s hard to get back to it. The trick, and the part that you really have to pay attention to, is when the universe provides gentle reminders something is out of whack. Left unaddressed, they intensify and may result in an injury or burnout out or some other type of time out that you can no longer ignore.

It happened to me.

I fell out of mediation practice about a month into the pandemic. Instead of using my phone to listen to a guided meditation, I started scrolling news feeds. It became an addiction and I couldn’t stop reading about one horror of the pandemic after another. At first I tried to kid myself and turn the app on while I scrolled. Eventually I wondered what’s the point and turned it off.

I used to roll my feet everyday, without fail. And even though my feet started to hurt more and more, I didn’t keep up with this practice. When my feet hurt, it ripples up my posterior chain to my lower back… next thing I knew I couldn’t get out of bed due to a low back flare up.

I spent time in the chiropractors office, hoping that he’d have some miracle reset that would make it all better. And the work he did made an impact, however it wasn’t addressing the fundamental imbalance I had in my body and mind. One that turned upside down with the world as we know it.

I stopped bringing my phone to bed and my sleep quality increased tenfold. I started tackling my library reading list instead. I even set a timer for various social media feeds to stop the time leech and my happiness increased.

But that wasn’t enough. My body was still out of whack. I couldn’t ride the bike for longer than an hour without severely impacting my back and I’d roll home, deflated and not able to stand up straight for hours after.

So I backed off the heavy training, really limiting my time on the bike and only riding if I felt good. I started a consistent restorative yoga practice to get my parasympathetic nervous system to turn on. And slowly, things started to get better.

What really made a difference though was talking to my coach about these things. And telling him what actions I need to take, daily, in order for the healing to continue: foam rolling, myofascia release, hot baths/showers and gentle stretches to lengthen my hamstrings, strengthen my glutes and do activation prior to getting on the bike, and yes, meditate. Not the in bed type of meditation I was doing before, but the deliberate practice in the middle of the day.

When you share with your coach your goals and desires, they hold you accountable and support you. And that is worth every penny.

Ben’s tips for master athletes

In a recent VeloNews article, Ben gave a couple of tips on how to compete as a master athletes and how important it is to focus on the process and not the outcome.

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of your training? Check out this article: https://www.velonews.com/training/seven-habits-of-highly-successful-masters-cyclists/

Is Pain Real or Just a Figment of Your Imagination?

We all have that friend. You know the type: the one who can push harder and longer than anyone else you know. They’re often world champions and Olympic caliber athletes. They find themselves in the most grueling of sports and are able to practically nose breath through it, showing no signs they hurt. The Chloe Dygerts, Sarah Hammers, or Pat Warners of the world. Somehow, someway, they interact with pain differently than 99.99% of the population. When the pain seeps in, they keep pushing. It’s as though they don’t even notice it. And they break record after record, after record.

So what is it about these athletes that allows them to go that much harder than the average person? Sure their VO2 max and threshold power is likely off the charts. But I reckon they also have the ability to block out pain interpretations in their brains when they want to.

When something hurts, your brain sends a signal to that part of the body as danger! Back it off or you could die. The limbic system is activated and our cave person ancestry comes into play… the fight or flight response. If we encounter pain frequently, our brains create a looped response. The experience happens, our brains assign a value to it, our body is able to react to that value and it feeds back into the experience. If you don’t like VO2 intervals because they hurt, chances are you’re going to avoid them as much as possible or they won’t go as well as they could have. But if you’re able to re-circuit your brain to embrace that “pain” and know that hurting is okay and that you’re not going to die, suddenly you’re able to stay in that zone that much longer.

Think back to the last time you did a hard interval workout. Were you able to complete it as prescribed? Or did you find that your mindset came into play and determined its success? What about the time nailed the workout.. what was your mindset then? Did it feel differently than the time before?

Still with me? So how do you trick your brain into dealing with pain and garner a different response? The first is by practicing. The more often you subject yourself to that pain, the more your brain and body adapts to that feeling. (Enter in periodization theory.) Ever had a rest week and the next week you return to training it hurts worse than the week before your rest week? Your pain receptors built a tolerance toward an effort and when you rested, your resiliency temporarily lessened. Give a week and you regain that tolerance.

Another tool to trick your brain is through disassociation. Say you’re outside doing a hard interval or climbing a hill. It’s just you, the bike and gravity. It’s hot out, you’re sweating and your feet hurt. Your brain starts to send a signal to your body that it’s in the red and in danger of over heating, and that this exertion is dangerous. If you focus on those sensations, you automatically slow down. But if you’re able to focus on something else like an upcoming tree or repeat a mantra to yourself, you’ve suddenly introduced a distraction that could keep your brain at bay as you continue to push yourself through the red zone. Additional disassociation tools include music and/or counting. Anything you use to keep yourself out of your head and delaying the messages your brain is sending your legs.

Next time you ride, try those disassociation tools and just notice. What works, what doesn’t? Do you find that you’re able to push a little longer or maybe even enter the flow state? Once you build up that muscle, try applying it to harder workouts. Even if it works for just 30 seconds, you may see some improvement. You might not see results right away, but over time, as with any consistent practice, you’ll start to notice a difference.

One thing is for sure, if I had a super hero power, it would be to not feel pain.

Planning For The Unknown

One thing 2020 is good for is making you take a step back and really evaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Especially as an athlete. Especially one who isn’t a professional and getting paid to pedal on two wheels as fast as possible.

Remember how uncertain things were back in early March? Remember how much denial and hope we had that things wouldn’t be canceled, that life as we knew it would continue to exist? And as we tried to adapt and make sense of all that uncertainty, it created more angst.

Pretty much everything was thrown out the window by April.

We all saw waves of race cancelations, postponements, deferments. If you were focused on just one peak race of the season, or had goals that only included performing at specific races, I bet you struggled with a sense of loss more than others. Grief is experienced even if someone doesn’t die. Grief happens when we lose something we hold near and dear to us and suddenly, it’s gone.

Here’s the thing: when you first start racing/training/riding, all you could probably think about was conquering things. Your first 20 mile ride, 50 miles, 100 miles, first time up some epic hill, etc. Then maybe you started focusing on how many people you could pass. Then you started looking into racing and next thing you know you’re on a fast track to advance through the racing categories as quickly as possible. You’re in your third year of racing with 60 races under your belt and are now contemplating which bigger races you want to go back to so you can improve your result.

Somewhere in your racing career, this drive and desire to be better, faster, stronger and beat everyone starts to lose its appeal. Maybe you realize that you have preferences for specific races and start focusing on those. And yet something is missing. If you’re in this sport for the long term, you start to notice you get more satisfaction by collectively winning with your teammates. Suddenly standing on top of the podium no longer matters – just as long as someone from your team is represented.

And that my friends, is when cycling really gets sweet.

If you enjoy what you do, on and off the bike, your joie de vivre is that much richer. And yes, this applies to more than just cycling. It’s perfectly normal (and expected!) that your joy and the reasons you cycle change. Being able to shift and adapt as human beings is part of having an open mindset. Your motivation becomes more fluid. With so many things out of our control, you can now sleep well at night knowing that you’re in touch with what fills you up.

The moment your focus shifts from outcome goals to process goals, you hit the cycling jackpot. No matter what type of rider you are, once you start banking joyful riding experiences you’ll be hooked for life. Take a moment to create daily positive experiences and your “why cycling” grows tenfold.

The Art of Living Simply

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being bombarded by messages: buy this, do that, judge that, compare this, look at these photos and videos, read this news story and do it all right now – nothing else matters.

It drives me crazy.

I wasn’t sleeping at night. Or if I did fall asleep, I’d wake up early and start right back into the cycle of news stories and groundhog day morning rituals. At some point between April and September, I wasn’t even aware it was happening.

And then, a gift in the form of a library book.

In a quest to locate another inspiring home revolution cookbook, I’d queried Alice Water’s “The Art of Simple Food” and another title came up: “The Art of Living Simply: 100 daily practices from a Japanese Zen monk for a lifetime of calm and joy.”

Um, YES!

I placed it on hold, and lugged home a heavy book bag, laden with Alice’s two volumes of cookbooks and the small, unimposing Zen book. I brought the Zen book with me to bed and started reading it last night.

And things started to slow down. My perception shifted.

I slept through the night. And when I woke, I mindfully made my coffee and while I waited for the french press, I sat quietly without distraction. I lined up my shoes. And I breathing in the fresh air of a new day.

“Does for mental clutter for what Marie Kondo has done for household clutter.” Indeed.

Fueling For On The Bike Performance

This past weekend, Ben and I attempted a kitchen sink kind of workout. One that addresses all of the energy systems: endurance, sprints, VO2, sweet spot and finally 1 minute all out efforts. If there were ever a training ride to prepare you for the demands of racing, this is it.

We fueled well that morning: an egg scramble with veggies, and a big bowl of oatmeal. We even pre-loaded with a hydration mix specifically formulated for long, hard, intense rides. I’d mentally prepared myself for the 4.5 hour grueling workout.

But one thing I failed to do well: fuel during the ride.

For the 4.5 hours we rode, I only ate a banana and two packs of chews (one Honeystinger, one Skratch). I also drink one bottle with one scoop of electrolyte mix. And of course, a bunch of water.

By the second half of the ride, my power output suffered significantly. I couldn’t sustain sweet spot, let alone the endurance pace between sets. And my one minute efforts were pathetic. At the hour to go mark, all I could think about was limping back home at the highest sustained pace: barely above zone 1.

Has this ever happened to you?

I struggle to eat enough on the bike. The thought of eating only sugary, melted chocolate, and sweet chews followed by sweet electrolyte drink is not palatable. And the few savory bars I have managed to find are similar to chewing cardboard. But if you don’t fuel and aim for that 50-90g of carbs per hour, your performance will suffer.

Who doesn’t want to go faster? Then you have to train yourself to onboard carbohydrates throughout a ride. And the more carbohydrate you can tolerate and take in, the better you’ll perform during longer efforts.

That night we discussed different fueling strategies: my goal is to aim for 50g of carbs per hour to start with (keep in mind, this is only for rides over 2 hours long). Eventually I’d like to be in the 60-80g hour range. That’s two packs of chews per hour! Great for someone who loves chews and sugar coating their teeth…. but not so good if you’d prefer savory carb sources.

I scoured my Feed Zone cookbooks. Turns out not many portables have a super high carb content… even the rice cakes only average 30g per serving. I’ll need to eat 1.5 servings every hour – and that’s a lot of food! But after my lackluster performance this past weekend, I’m willing to get to work in the kitchen and see if I can create something that tastes good and meets those higher carb needs.

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to experiment with different rice cakes and other homemade on the bike nutrition I hope to share here.

First up, the Denver Rice Cake from Feed Zone Portables.

Have any homemade carb rich bike food recipes you’d like to share? Please let me know!

Staying Motivated

It’s still warm in the northern hemisphere and technically we’re just shy of two months left of summer. It’s August 3, 2020 and today is only the third day of road racing for the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado. Normally, we’d have completed nearly an entire road season and cyclocross racers would be foaming at the mouth for the season to start.

Yet this year is different.

This year, everything is different.

We had a notion the race season was going to be canceled back in February. Yet we (everyone) hoped this pandemic was just hype. That the news sources were fixating on the newest headline in a slow news day. And then the COVID case counts started rising, hospitals were slammed with critical care patients, PPE shortages, panic toilet paper hoarding and everything was shut down. With so much uncertainty, it was hard to write training plans around events that were vanishing before our eyes and in turn hard for our athletes to stay motivated.

Despite all of these setbacks and changes, it was interesting to see which athletes took this news in stride and which ones struggled. Sport certainly teaches you a lot about overcoming adversity and setbacks. For the most part, everyone was able to overcome the reality of a canceled race season and instead embraced working on their weaknesses. Normally, we only get a few weeks in the winter to really address the things that hold us back and this year, we’ve been able to hone in on them all spring and into summer.

Yet without competition, it’s hard to know if the time spent working those areas will come to fruition. Who’s paying attention? Does it really matter if I do my core in the morning? What if I missed a yoga class for the third week in a row? This is where it’s important to trust the process. We’ll find out soon enough and you’ll see who spent this time wisely or who decided to perfect their baking practices. (Kudos to those who were able to do both – that’s a win/win!)

If you’re struggling to stay motivated now that it’s August – getting that stoke factor back up could be as simple as taking a break. Or it could be brainstorming with your coach or friends to come up with a challenge to keep you on track for the months to come. I encourage you to get creative and think outside of the box. Bike packing adventures, scavenger hunts, exploring some new gravel roads, visiting farm stands and sourcing your veggies locally, etc. Just make sure to share it with someone you know who will hold you accountable and get in touch with what brings you joy.

What Would You Do?

My dad is making his semi-annual pilgrimage from Florida back to Oregon next week. He, his wife and their three dogs are driving, stopping at various pet friendly hotels along the way. They want to stop and see Ben and I, which we want to see them too!

Except… they have not been social distancing. They continue to have friends over for dinner and give their friends hugs and kisses. They don’t wear masks or take extra precautions to avoid germs. They’ll be staying at public hotels along the way and refilling at gas stations, eating on the road, and with each encounter, increasing their chances of exposure.

We’ve been so careful. We’ve turned down invitations to hang out with friends.

Do we let them stay here?

When I asked my group of girlfriends they all said no way!

But it’s FAMILY.

Have they been practicing social distancing? No. It’s one thing if they were taking the steps to avoid gatherings and staying in a RV or self contained unit along the way. If we let them stay here, we’re inviting their germs, their friends germs and the germs of their friends not to mention all of the people that they interact with along the way.

I fretted over this last night and all this morning.

Again, I really want to see them and yet….

I’ve bitten off every single one of my fingernails, a habit I started as a kid as a coping mechanism. The stress knot that builds behind my right shoulder blade flared up.

And just as I was typing this, I got a call from my dad saying that they’ll catch us on their return trip to Florida this upcoming fall. They spoke with a friend who had a visitor come from New York and passed the virus onto their entire household. He said he just doesn’t want to risk giving it to us.

My nails just grew back a little bit. PHEW!

This brings up an interesting point though – where do you stand on things? What would you do in that situation? And why do people’s responses vary so much to what’s going on with the pandemic?

The Routine These Days

If it weren’t for my regularly scheduled Monday and Tuesday meetups, I’m sure the days would blend together and I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

Wake up, check the news. See what’s new and hopefully not too depressing. This morning I read a headline that said although we’re getting bored by sheltering in place, it also could mean a huge surge in creativity and problem solving. A glimmer of hope, I say! Otherwise, headline after headline about the dire straights humanity is in right now.

Get up, do my core while listening to an informative podcast. I usually listen to CNN’s  – and today focused on the mental health of those on the front line. My heart goes out to all of those essential workers who are bravely helping the sick.

Feed the pup and get some coffee on. I gave up drinking java for 10 years. Ten years! I have a sensitivity to caffeine and since Ben doesn’t drink it and the sun actually shines 300 days a year in Colorado, it was easy to forgo. During my mom’s most recent visit (from Seattle in early March, while shit was hitting the fan), she left a bag of ground beans and my first sip of a hot brewed cup of joe has me back on the beans again. I GOT SO MUCH DONE, at first. Now, I just like the taste again. And maybe the comfort of having a morning ritual.

Cook breakfast. I really like egg scrambles with as many veggies as you can muster. We sit down to eat and when I’m nearly done, Mochi starts letting me know that THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE DAY IS HERE: her morning walk. Sometimes Ben joins, sometimes not. We have this big open space adjacent to our house that takes about 20-25 minutes to walk to the end and back. Mochi loves it. And I love making that little pup happy.

Come home, start working. Work for me these days consists of checking in on athletes that I coach and building their training as well as create online content in the form of blogging and yoga videos. I try and stay away from the headlines and news stories – reading them in the morning and limiting it to just then seems to help me mentally.

At some point during the day, I practice the ukulele and this brings me a lot of joy. I’m almost ready to play in front of people AND sing. Coming from this shy girl, I can’t believe it!

I also dream of what’s for dinner and figure out what veggies are about to turn in order to not waste any food. Tonights pick: leftovers.

Yep, it is boring. And I feel a big surge of creativity coming…. may you capture and capitalize on that spark when it hits!

Taking A Break

I clued into my own happiness this past week which meant a lot less time on news sites and more time doing the things I love. Or in one case, ahem, taxes, something that I’ve been procrastinating doing for quite some time.

Something I discovered: Checking In with Susan David’s podcast. It gives you some great tips on how to take care of your mental health during this pandemic. And taking a break from the media was definitely suggested and adopted – thank you, Susan!

Yep, case loads and hospitalizations as well as the death toll continues to tick upward. But you already knew that.