Bittersweet Race: DCCX

My second cross race had a very inauspicious start, what with a stolen bike and all. But despite all of that, my desire to ride was overwhelming and I found a bike to borrow for DCCX. And I’m so glad I did, because it turns out the act of racing means so much more than the bike I’m racing on!

It is a two day race and I was only planning to race on Sunday, but still went and spectated most of the afternoon on Saturday, despite the sadness of the bike theft. While Saturday was bone dry, with dust choking everything, it rained overnight and made everything a little soft. So, it turns out, if you want a muddy course, just invite me because I seem to bring the rain!

Very dust on day 1!

Very dust on day 1!

It wasn’t soupy like it was at Hyattsville, just a slick and slippery. And wow, what a course it was! I had been terrified to learn earlier that week that they had brought the flyover from Charm City to use at DCCX, but when I got there on Saturday, I heard that because 3 people had been taken to the hospital because of the flyover, they took it out for the early races with the less experienced riders. And I was thankful for that! However, it was still a wicked course. There were a LOT of sharp little inclines, all very short and very steep, which was made it a LOT harder than Hyattsville! Hyattsville was a slog, with the mud just sapping all the strength. DCCX was a lot more technical, requiring not only the legs to get up the inclines, but also the skill needed to keep up the speed around all the turns (although, “speed” is a relative term when talking about my racing). I normally would have been able to make it up those inclines, but I wasn’t able to keep up any speed on the downhill because I didn’t trust my wheels to keep enough grip on the slippery grass. Plus, the lack of tread made it impossible to stand up on the hills, as my back wheel would wash out every time on the soft ground and I’d had to do an awkward dismount to “run” up the hill.

DCCX 2015 (793)

I was learning how to be a little more fearless on the bike, to try and be a little more technical in my racing, but riding with my friend’s bike didn’t help that. I know I have the skill to be a really good technical racer, gaining and keeping speed through tricky bits, but I was so paranoid of my wheels washing out, I slowed down way more than I wanted to. I fear this is a habit that will be hard to break! The most treacherous part of the course was a “M” configuration, where you went up a steep hill, immediately went down a steep hill that turned right into another steep hill which turned right down until a longer downhill with a nice tight turn at the bottom (okay, not that tight, but it felt tight with the speed from the downhill). PLUS there were the rocks and roots on the downhill to avoid AND the sand/dirt at bottom, which not only made it very hard to keep up any speed to get back up the steep incline, but also added the risk of washing out! So, you know, basically turned me into a scaredy-cat. I’d dismount at the top of the “M” and cautiously pick my way down the hill. Chris gave me a lot of grief about that when he saw me stop and get off my bike. But in my defense, it was a new bike with crap tires, so I think I was justified in my caution.

Walking cautiously down the "M"

Walking cautiously down the “M”

This race has another first – my first handup. Honestly, this was the part of cross that I most looked forward to! The first lap I took a bacon handup, which was a mistake. It was a whole piece, which was hard to chew quickly and it was so salty! The second lap I took a beer handup, which was better, but honestly, when you’re going as hard as you are in a race, any food does not sit well in the stomach. I spent the rest of the lap regretting that beer. But I don’t think that will stop me from taking another handup….

DCCX 2015 (801)

Advantage to doing early races: your race doesn’t have to eat up your whole day. Disadvantage to riding early: limited opportunities to pre-ride. In the Super 8 series, my race is generally at 10am, which means I can only pre-ride before the 9am race, unless I want to get to the course before the 8:15 race (HA). Another disadvantage: I rarely get to cheer on Chris/@cycleboredom because I’m always either standing in line to pick my number up or getting ready to pre-ride.

Overall, it was a great race. My dad visited me for the weekend to watch me race and it was so, so great to have him there – it was great to have his calming presence during the bike debacle and it was great to have him there to cheer and take pictures during the race. I regret that I forgot to take a picture together! It was a hard, HARD course. I felt like throwing up multiple times and definitely cried a little, both during and after the race. But the support and the atmosphere of the race make it all worth it and I can’t wait to do it again!

Bike Love and Loss and Love

I was all ready and excited to do my 2nd cyclcross race last Sunday, at DCCX (The Only Race In Your Nation’s Capital!), when a trip down to the bike storage area in my building revealed a terrible fact: my bike was gone. My beautiful, new, only-raced-once bike was gone. All that was left was a lousy cut cable lock (no lectures please, I already know that was dumb). The details are too painful and shameful to recount and every conversation reminds me of what I don’t have anymore and it hurts my heart too much. I always thought it would suck to have a bike stolen, but I never thought it would hurt this much. Maybe it’s the thought of all the good times I knew we would’ve had together, all the rides we wouldn’t go on, all the races we wouldn’t do. I mean, I fucking loved that bike. This inanimate object opened new doors and introduced me to new experiences and people and I just MOURN all the experiences that stolen along with the bike. That’s what hurts the most when I think of what I’ve lost – it’s not the missing bike so much that hurts, as it is all the experiences I won’t have with it.

However, in the dark, dark storm that is trying to recover a stolen bike, there was one bright spot – the care and compassion of my fellow bike lovers and friends. I had lots of genuinely sympathetic comments on my Facebook posts and I could just tell they were just as upset as I was. When I tweeted my stolen bike with the #bikeDC hashtag, asking people to spread the picture, tons of people (most I didn’t know) retweeted the picture and some strangers even replied back, saying how sorry they were. When talking to the police and spreading the word about the bike, I wasn’t too emotional or upset. But once I felt the kindness and sympathy of all these people (strangers and friends alike), it was hard not to get emotional

The truth is, being a bike owner is living in a constant state of “I hope my bike is still there when I get back to it”. ANYTIME you have to lock your bike up and leave it, there’s a chance it might not be there the next time you go back to it. You can do things to try and make your bike seem like an unattractive bet for stealing, but in reality, there isn’t a bike lock that can’t be broken. And I think that is why there is so much sympathy from strangers when it comes to stolen bikes – everyone knows it could happen to them. All of our bikes are vulnerable to theft and every time you see a stolen bike post, you think “that could be me next time!”

Having a bike taken is like having part of your soul stolen. It hurts a lot and leaves a bit hole. But, somehow, the love and support and sympathy you get from other bike lovers helps fill the hole a little. I don’t hate life quite as much, knowing there is a whole community who knows my pain and genuinely cares for your loss.

While I was talking to the police and posting my bike picture all over social media, all I could think about was how I just wanted to be at DCCX. Partly because I wanted the distraction and partly because I love that race so much. It was pretty rough seeing everyone with their bikes, thinking about what I’d lost. I waffled back and forth during the day, trying to decide if I wanted to find a bike to borrow. In the end, I decided I wanted to ride more than anything. So, the next morning, I lined up with a bike my friend in the building had lent me. It was a little big and didn’t have quite enough tread on the tires, but it was a bike. This bike let me be part of a community that is amazing and I know I’ve only just started discovering how much this community to give me.

And in the end, the community is all that really matters. A bike is just an object and while its theft caused a huge hole inside me, I can rest a little easier knowing that my body is still whole and that there is a community out there that will embrace me and comfort me in my time of sadness.


Love and Cyclocross: My First Cross Race

Sometimes you try new things and it works out and you have a good time. Other times you try new things and the experience exceeds your wildest expectations.

I did my first cross race this Sunday, Hyattsville CX and I can’t believe what a ride it was. The race itself was about what I expected, in terms of difficulty. But everything surrounding the race really even more than I expected. (To read how I got to the start line, read this!)


Not exactly jumping the barriers…

The race itself was brutal. I did not enjoy myself while racing. I chose Hyattsville CX as my first race because it seemed like a pretty easy course – and had it been dry, I assume it would have been! But, unfortunately it spent the 4 previous days raining nonstop, so the course became soft and soupy. There were two long sections where it was a pure mud pit. And holy Jesus, mud is a soul sucking, strength sapping disaster. Running the mud was out of the question (because I am not that fit!), but walking was no easier than riding and I only stopped riding to avoid falling over in the mud. I did pretty well in the technical sections, was able to handle my bike well and seemed to have a good eye for picking good lines. Chris (@cycleboredom) insisted watching all those Svenness videos must have paid off. He’s probably right. (He also did his first race at Hyattsville. Read it here!)

Riding in a race is so different than riding for fun or through town. When I’m riding on the road and on trails, I’m always looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m not moving out in front of someone, calling out my presence, apologizing. But it seemed weird to do that on the course. One women was passing me, I went to move out of her way, but she still sort of cut me off and said “Sorry!” and I said, “No worries!” I mean, if you’re passing a competitor (not necessarily someone like me who’s back of the pack), should you say, “On your left!”? I don’t know! I will say I was impressed and grateful that all the junior riders on the RCV (Rock Creek Velo) club called their passes to me – it was polite and I appreciated it.

Once I finished, my throat was so parched and that first beer I had was hands down the best beer I’ve ever tasted. Then I had a 2nd one, which was also delicious but then I had to wait a few hours to drive home again…

Post race, waiting to wash my bike. Photo by Cycleboredom

But, above all, I was just BLOWN away at how great the cross community was on Sunday. I’ve always admired how accepting the cross community feels, but never imagined it would feel this good to be on the inside of it. From the other women I was racing with, to the spectators, to my friends, to random strangers – they were all amazing. There was the woman who lined up next to me asking me if it was my first race and giving encouragement, my friends shouting my name as I rode past, the woman waiting to get a beer who asked me about the race – all of it made the whole day amazingly special.


But the best, BEST support were the words of encouragement from every Masters women who lapped me (which I’m pretty sure was all of them!). There is a lot of talk about how women don’t support each other, how feminism makes women enemies instead of friends, how they tear each other down instead of working in solidarity, and can’t women just get along?? What I saw here turned all of that on its head. These women embraced me and welcomed me. These women  understood the struggles of life and of cross – the struggle to over come the obstacles of even getting to the start line and the actual struggle on the course to compete and finish – and reached out with their words to push me own. I was so worried about being embarrassed or not feeling worthy and with a few words, these women took every bit of that away from me.

In fact, with every word of encouragement that came from the other racers or spectators, it all became worth it and I stopped questioning why I was out there. The guy who complemented my line choice, my friend Shauna who rode next to me on the course, shouting encouragement and coaching at me while I struggled through the mud, the guy who remarked that I had a nice dismount (the new compliment to make a girl swoon?), the other guy who shouted at me “You’re right there! Finish strong!” – it seriously gave me strength to start another lap. As I finished one lap, I did not think I had the strength to do another lap. But the cheers made me WANT to do another lap and they made me happy for all of the times I had cheered my heart out for those at the back of the pack, because perhaps they need it the most.

So, for all you women (and guys!) out there who are intimidated by cross, let me tell you it’s worth it. The stress of finding a new bike, the intimidation of the skills needed, the sick feeling you get when you think of lining up – the cross community, the love they have for the sport and those that put themselves out there to try their beloved sport, make it ALL WORTH IT. Life can be hard and cruel and overwhelming, but there are times when you are surprised and grateful and welcomed. This was one of those times and I can’t wait to do it again.

Over the Barriers: A Journey to Cyclocross

I’ve had my bike for about 4 years now and most things are old hat right now – I haven’t been discovering new things or really going on new adventures, so nothing feels exciting to blog about. However, recently, I’ve been embarking on a new adventure. And that adventure is cyclocross. (if you don’t know what cyclocross is and need a primer, check out an introduction article I wrote here)

I’ve spent been engaged in the pro cycling community since the 2010 Tour de France, but didn’t really pay much attention to its winter sister of cross until a few years later. Once I actually started paying attention to cross, I was immediately fascinated. I loved the community it seemed to foster, the fun everyone seemed to have, and its accessibility as a fan. I never thought about actually racing myself, even though I loved that it was such a participation sport – I’m not drawn to competition, and the skills needed were intimidating. I’m not sure what changed or shifted in my head, but last year I started to wonder if cross participation was something I could do. However, I didn’t want to drop the big bucks on a new bike if I was going to be hopeless at the skills (as putting the crucial knobby tires on my current bike wasn’t an option). So, when I realized Team Sticky Fingers ( a women’s cycling team in DC) was running women’s only cross clinics in August and September of last year, I rode over to try it out. And it turns out I wasn’t terrible at the cross skills! Dismounting and remounting were intimidating, but not impossible. Barriers were a challenge, but not a challenge I felt I couldn’t overcome. Pus, I have decent bike handling skills. However, cross bikes are freaking expensive, and it wasn’t in the cards to buy one in time for last season. So, I saved my pennies and vowed I’d buy a bike in time to have my cross coming out season at Hyattsville (Hyattsville CX felt like a good 1st race on a few levels: the course isn’t too challenging, I bought my first bike at Arrow in Hyattsville, who sponsor the race, and relearned how to ride a bike in the same area where the race takes place). I need that hard deadline, or else I’d always find reasons to put off making the commitment.

I was ready to buy a bike in August of this year but good Lord, I’d forgotten how overwhelming buying a new bike is! Researching bikes online is practically useless, as there are SO many options, I get option paralysis. So, I decided to just start with the shops: I went to all the shops in the area that were relatively accessible for me and said, “I’m looking for a cross bike, what do you have?” And that turned out to be perfect, despite the fact that most shops only carry one or two brands of cross bikes and often don’t have my size in stock. It was perfect because it really helped me focus on a handful of brands and make a decision from that smaller pool. On top of it all, I went to about 4 shops and they were all respectful and kind to me – no one talked down to me or tried to force me to buy a bike I didn’t want. So, if you’re looking for any kind of a new bike, I suggest starting with a small pool, and narrow down from whatever options you have at your LBS.

In the end, I went with a Giant TCX SLR 2 from The Bike Rack. I love how it looks and I love how it rides!


Once I bought the bike, I had to actually start practicing those cross skills again. As I wasn’t able to find any clinics in the area, I did some refresher reading on the internet and just went out to the local park to practice those dismounts and remounts. I’d find a relative flat, empty section of Rock Creek Park or Sligo Creek Park and just do laps, jumping on and off the bike. However, I was still really nervous about barriers – I wasn’t sure I would be able to practice that on my own and didn’t trust myself to remember how to do it from last summer. Luckily, The Bike Race racing team offered a cross clinic this week – the week before my first race, perfect timing! It ended up being a perfect cross practice, as it poured rain the entire clinic – that seemed fitting! The clinic was wonderful on a couple of levels – it gave me a chance to do some last minute skills training AND a fair number of the women who showed up were also planning on doing the Hyattsville race. The thought of a friendly, familiar face on the start line was a HUGE comforting factor for me.

But on the eve of my first race, my big secret is that it’s not failure I’m afraid of, it’s embarrassment. I worry way too much about how others perceive me and judge me, and my insides feel sick at that thought that someone might be laughing at me because of something I do, say, wear. Are these fears unfounded? Probably. But the mind is rarely rational. I’ve been working a lot to stop focusing on how others might perceive me (because those are their issues, not mine), and this article about mindset as it pertains to cyclocross, really spoke to me. Basically, those with a flexible mindset don’t see failure as embarrassing or a setback – they see at as learning step and necessary to grow. So, I’ve been trying to move from a fixed mindset to a flexible mindset when it comes to cross, and look at whatever happens as a learning event and nothing more. Plus, every time I wonder what a spectator might think when they see me struggle, I think of every time I’ve been a spectator at a race and how much I supported and cheered and encouraged those on the course, no matter how they were doing. And in fact, I cheered MORE for those who seemed to be struggling, because I wanted to convey how much I admired what they were doing and thought they were brave. Not to mention, all the great people I’ve met in cross who are genuinely good people and would never laugh at me for a “mistake”. So, whenever the bad thoughts crowd into my head as I think about the race tomorrow, I just imagine it’s me on the side, cheering and encouraging me on as I struggle and suffer. And I suspect I’ll need all the encouragement I can give myself.

Body Image and Cycling Clothes: An Unhappy Relationship

This is a blog post that’s been stewing for awhile. It’s been hard to get out of my brain for a couple of reasons. First, because the thoughts are all jumbled in there and I’ve needed to sort then out. Second, it’s a post which required some confession and I’ve needed to work up the courage. But after a discussion on Twitter yesterday  about the lack of cycling clothes for women inspired Sarah (@_pigeons_) to finally write her own body image post, I’ve decided to screw up my courage to write the post, because the more women who come out of the clothes closet and confess their body issues, the more women will not feel alone!

I’m a plus sized girl. Always have been, always will be. That’s just the way I am. I wear a US size 18 (UK 20/Euro 48). I have big thighs (made bigger by cycling!), big hips, a big waist (with a large tummy), big boobs.  And I would say that generally I’m able to convince myself that I don’t really care about my size. Except when I have to buy clothes. That’s when I feel fat. That’s when I start wondering how people see me, if they judge me because of my body, if people are disgusted by me. And I shouldn’t give a fuck! I’m a feminist, goddamn it. I know it’s society that makes me feel ashamed! But I can’t help it. When I think about clothes, and how I look in them, I always wonder how well I’ve hidden my belly and if guys who do see it are turned off by it.I know clothes that fit well and are flattering make a huge difference in how I look and my confidence. But damn, it is hard to find well fitted clothes when you’re a size 18 and have a large chest. When I know I need to shop for specific clothes (jeans, a dress, cycling shorts), I start getting anxious because I know it won’t be easy. I’ll admit- I’ve been brainwashed by society.

Today, as we were talking about cycling clothes for women on Twitter, I could feel myself starting to get emotional and stressed out. Buying regular clothes isn’t a picnic, but at least I know there are a couple of places I can rely on to have my size. When it comes to cycling clothes, forget it. I’ve never been in a cycling shop that has women’s sizes that will fit me. XL? Don’t make me laugh! I’m lucky if I can get my arms inside an XL, let alone zip it up. The male cut might be roomier in the chest, but there is no way it’s going to fit over my hips (trust me, I’ve tried). I don’t even bother looking at cycling clothes in the store, because I know they won’t fit.

This means I have to look online for my cycling clothes. And even online there are precious few options when it comes to extended sizes in cycling clothes. I hate buying clothes online- even everyday clothes. Even when they have good measurements, I still can’t tell how the fabric lays and stretches  or if the cut will be flattering to my belly and chest. Plus, if it doesn’t fit, I have to go to the trouble of sending it back. Buying cycling clothing online is even worse, because the sizing is awful. A nightmare. I spend days combing through sites, comparing sizing charts. I’ve even made a freaking spreadsheet. I need at least a 46 inch chest. Louis Garneau goes up to 3X. Sounds promising, right? Except their 3X is only 42 inches. Castelli? Their XXL is only 45. And let’s not ever talk about the high end brands. Rapha? 40 inch chest max. Even discounting the fact that there is zero standardization in sizing, how is sizing like that going to encourage more women to feel good about themselves on the bike?


My sizing spreadsheet

I know I’m never going to look skinny on the bike, but is it too much to ask to have flattering cuts, non-elasticized hems, and jerseys that don’t ride up?  And this is just the technical gear. What about all the new ‘stylish’ every day biking gear? Rapha doesn’t even have a women’s casual line. And besides Vulpine (which doesn’t have extended sizes), I’m hard pressed to even name another company that does casual riding clothes for women. And honestly, even if there were companies that did casual biking clothes for women, I wouldn’t even bother to look to see if they had something to fit me, because I know they won’t and it will just make me feel fat and ashamed when I see the sizing.

There are two issues at play here: body confidence and lack of options when it comes to cycling clothes. And I think the latter is affecting the former. When, time after time, I’m confronted with sizes that don’t even come close to my measurements, the message seems to be “We don’t want you size here. Your size isn’t normal and we can’t accommodate for it.” How is one supposed to remain body confident in the face of that?? Whether it’s technical or casual riding gear, time and again, I’m reading the message that my size isn’t “normal.” Even if I didn’t think of myself as fat, it would be hard to keep convincing myself of that when the only size that MIGHT fit me is an XXL, if I’m lucky. And even though I know they’re just arbitrary letters and numbers that don’t really mean anything, I can’t quite stop myself from feeling ashamed of my size.

Could I be thinner? Yes. I could do things to help me lose weight. I eat like shit and I don’t work out enough. If I improved my diet and rode my bike more often, I could lose a size or two. But I am always going to be plus sized. I’m always going to have big thighs, big boobs, a tummy, a large waist. When is the cycling industry giong to start recognizing that most women who ride bikes aren’t built like guys- they have curves, they have pooches, they have roundness. Women want flattering cuts to maybe help disguise some of the bits they don’t like. Or at least a cut that acknowledges they have HIPS and a WAIST. I’ve worn enough plus-sized, box shaped shirts to recognize the importance of defining a waist. I know I need to keep working on accepting myself, but it is hard to accept myself when it seems no one in the fashion industry or at the cycling clothing companies does.

But in an ironic twist, I don’t really care when what I look like when I’m on the bike. There is no where to hide when you’re wearing technical gear. All of the lumpy bits are out there. But for some reason, I don’t care. Even if shopping for cycling gear stresses me out to the max, once I’ve got it on and I’m on the bike, I feel comfortable. I feel strong. And I think, in the end, that’s what makes it all okay. I know many women aren’t like me, so I’m grateful I stop caring about how I look once I’m on  the bike. And as long as I feel strong on the bike, I guess that is what is most important.


At RAGBRAI ’13 with my dad and brother

So much thanks to Sarah (@_pigeons), for being brave enough to write her post. Also thanks to both Sarah and Jen (@_gavia_) for the great conversations which inspired these posts! Give them both a follow!

Update: Sarah has curated two posts on cycling clothing for larger women- Part 1 for plus sizes, Part 2 for XL and XXL sizing. AND Tina over at Wheel Women did exactly what I hoped this post would inspire- she wrote a blog post about her body image issues on the bike as well! Check it out here.

Conquring the Wall: Philly Cycling Classic 2013

0602131320bIf Chattanooga was a last minute, impulsive decision, the decision to go to Philly to watch the newly rechristened Parx Casino Philly International was one I made a while ago. Philly is only two and a half hours from DC and I was really interested to see how the race course change would affect the race. In addition, I wanted to ride the Bicycling Open, which is basically just an opportunity to pre-ride the course the day of the race. I was terrified of the Wall (more on that later), but was excited about the challenge!

First, I need to explain the Wall. The Wall is the Manayunk Wall, named after the Philly suburb it runs through. It’s a climb that is only .5 miles long, but it has sections of 17% gradient and it is BRUTAL! This year, instead of a start/finish downtown in front of the Art Museum, and a mix of short circuits and long circuits (which include the Manayunk Wall), the Philly Classic started and ended at the top of the Wall. It also cut out the downtown short laps, opting instead for 10 laps straight up. While this meant the overall lap length was shorter, it also meant the racers had to ride up the Wall 10 times!! In addition, because the start/finish was now at the top of the Wall, the race wouldn’t end in a sprint but would most likely reward a solo move made within the last few laps, if not the last lap, and maybe even the last climb. So it was shaping up to be an awesome race!

I was staying with a friend of friend in Manayunk. When I told him I was driving up (I rented a car), he said “Well, parking can be a bit difficult around here, so call me when you’ve found a spot.” And, damn, he wasn’t joking. The lower half of Manayunk is a maze of narrow streets, made narrower by all the cars parked on one side. They should all be one ways, but only half of them were, so I just prayed no would come up as I was going down. I drove around for about a half hour before I found a spot that wouldn’t require me to parallel park- those skills are pretty rusty!

Camera 360

My original intention was to ride down to the art museum and spend time there before I met up with my Twitter friend, Heidi (@heidimo6). They have a great bike trail that follows the Schuylkill River on either side. But I got a late start and it was fucking HOT and HUMID. I got not even halfway there and it was clear I was not going to make it downtown! So I backtracked a bit, rode over to the other side of the river that had a trail next to a closed road (similar to Beach Drive in DC), rode for a bit, then laid down to take a nap. It was glorious! I did have someone shout at me to make sure I was still alive, and I appreciated that. Eventually I got up to meet Heidi at her hotel. The trip there was all uphill and it was still disgustingly hot. So that was fun.

After dinner with Heidi and a few drinks with my hosts, I crashed, ready for an early morning.

Camera 360

The ride started at 7:15 and I was glad we got our ride out of the way before the sun got too high. Our ride started a little bit before the Wall, instead of on top of the Wall, like the real race did. So, after biking through the town, we started up the Wall. I think the Wall can be divided into 3 sections. The first section is the longest, steep-ish, but pretty steady. I was feeling pretty strung out by the time i reached the end of that section. Even though as I think back on it. I don’t have an exact memory being  so wiped that it justified stopping for a rest, but I did. I don’t remember feeling like my legs were burning or I was hyperventilating, so I’m not sure why stopped for a breather. But I did, and then I started up the  2nd section.

1st section, with women climbing

1st section during the women’s race

That section was A LOT steeper, though not as long. I was able to ride most of the first section seated, but that was not an option for the 2nd section! As I was riding, I kept my gaze focused on the 200m to go sign- I was telling myself, just make it to the sign, then it flattens out! Because it definitely looked like it flattened out! However, once I got to the 200 meters to go sign, hyperventilating, wheezing, and burning, it was clear it did NOT flatten out! I was so demoralized, I had to stop again.

Once I caught my breath and helped a girl fix her chain, I started up the last section. It was medium steep and pretty short. I felt pretty good going up it, because of my nice break.

3rd section

3rd section

Once you make it to the top of the Wall, there is a LOVELY downhill! It just goes on and on. And because it was on a closed course, we could just buzz through all the stop signs and lights!

The rest of the course is pretty flat, except for a little bump we thought was Lemon Hill and the climb that was actually Lemon Hill! Lemon Hill is pretty steep, but not long. I was pretty wheezy at the top, but my legs didn’t feel too bad.

Heidi and I after the ride

Heidi and I after the ride

After the ride, I took a shower, and then watched most of the women’s race from a Mexican restaurant. Heidi was supposed to join me, but she got lost. So I made friends with the mom and her daughter next to me, drank lots of margarita’s and did jello shots with them.

Camera 360

Eventually I made my way to the finish line on top of the Wall where Heidi was. It was wicked watching the guys come over the top of the hill. With 7 laps left, they pulled about half of the guys out of the race (they often do that if they’ve been dropped so far, there’s no chance of catching up). The guys were just SHATTERED- total death ride faces on them. However, many of them still had enough energy to slap the hands of those of lining the barriers, hand off water bottles, or pull a wheelie. The crowd went crazy every time a rider came over the top. I suspect the enthusiasm had something to do with the fact that it was about 25 minutes between laps, and maybe we were a bit bored.

Like Chattanooga, I really had no idea what was going on with the race. I didn’t even realized who had won until they announced him on the podium. Turns out it was Kiel Reijnen, who had come in 3rd in Chattanooga! He had a disappointing race with a mechanical right at the end, so it was super exciting to see him win.

And Kiel wins!

And Kiel wins!

It was another fun weekend of race watching. I’ll definitely be back to ride the course again next year, and hopefully I can make it up the Wall without stopping! Plus, I really wish I had tried to ride the Wall a second time. Hopefully next year I can make that happen!

Bike Trains in Chattanooga: US Pro Championships ’13

A last minute decision found me in Chattanooga, TN for the US Professional Road Race Championships! On Sunday, I had every intention of spending Memorial Day weekend indulging in an Arrested Development marathon. By Tuesday I had bought tickets to fly to Chattanooga!

I didn’t get in until Saturday evening, so I missed the TT. But with no racing scheduled on Sunday, I got to spend the day exploring the city with my Twitter friends Becky (@cat_nurse) and Roxanne (@cyclingrox). Chattanooga has a great bike share system and it was such a wonderful way to be able to explore the city- I got to see a lot more than I would’ve on foot! However, we soon realized Sunday in the south meant either everything was closed or didn’t open until the afternoon- which was an unforeseen problem when we decided to find a place to eat while we were biking!

Then Sunday evening I joined the “Divas” for some chalking on Lookout Mountain! In Europe, it is common practice to paint riders’ names and encouragement on the road for support. As we’re not allowed to put paint on the roads here, we settle for covering it in sidewalk chalk. So, along with Roxanne, Julie (@julesmpg), and Jen, we chalked the upper half of the climb to death! It was such a fantastic time, even though I was sweating buckets! While we were chalking, a reporter from the local newspaper come up to see what we were doing. And that turned into this article.

But the best part was when Chris Butler’s dad drove up the road, saw us chalking, and pulled over to chalk his son’s name on the road with us.

Chris Butler's name chalked by his dad

Chris Butler’s name chalked by his dad

After chalking, we gathered at a the Moccasin Bend Brewery for some great local beer and a kitchen with an unusual kitchen set up…

Outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchen

On race day, Roxanne and I got up early and took out some bike share bikes to pre-ride the course before the race started! We didn’t do the WHOLE thing, but it was fun to see and explore the whole course.

It stayed blessedly cloudy for the women’s race.

US Pro

But by the time the men started to line up, the clouds had blown away and the sun was beating down. I got a spot right by the start line, which meant I was right by the guys during call ups. I’ve never been to a pro race before (unless you count CX Worlds!), so it was cool to see some guys in World Tour jerseys line up who are really racers, not just local Freds!

At about the half way point of the men’s race, I started to get grumpy. It was hot and humid, and I couldn’t find a comfortable place to watch the race. The laps were so long – it felt like an age between each lap! I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to watch the Jumbotrons that were broadcasting the race and just spent a lot of time wandering around so my feet were killing me by the end of the day. I was definitely ready for the racing to be over after spending 8 hours on my feet!

I was really happy for Jelly Belly that Freddie Rodriguez won (as this means they’ll get invited to lots of races with the US champ on their team), but I do wish it had been won by someone on a Pro team, so it would be seen in Europe.

Monday after the race, most people left right away, but Roxanne, Steph (a Twitter friend who also lives in DC, @StephBDC) and I had dinner at Urban Stack, where they have AMAZING burgers. (And speaking of amazing eateries, be sure to check out Fork and Pie, a great place downtown right off the race course that serves only sweet and savory pies! I swear their Chicken Pot Pie has crack in it, it’s so good. Not to mention their mac and cheese.)

My flight didn’t leave until later Tuesday, so I spent Tuesday morning wondering around Chattanooga. It seems to be a city that is recovering into something new. One block would have lots of boutiques, fun, local restaurants and the like, and the next block would be all deserted storefronts. I think Chattanooga has a lot of potential!

It was a great city to host the US Pro Championships and while I’m definitely going back next year, I will be doing a couple of things differently. First, I will find a little chair to bring along so I always have somewhere to sit. Second, I think I will spend the race up on Lookout Mountain. I contemplated spending the race up there this year, but there were too many unknowns up there (such as, would we be able to leave or would we be stuck all day? Where would we use the bathroom? etc) and I wanted to experience the thrill of the finish line. But Lookout Mountain is quite a climb, so it’ll be awesome to see it from that vantage point!

I’ve realized that there are different enjoyments to take from watching a race life and watching the race on TV/the computer. Watch a race live, you are part of the action- it’s so exciting to get caught up in the crowds cheering, the speed of the racers, the party atmosphere. You cheer like crazy for every rider that comes by, first and last. And it generally doesn’t matter who actually wins- you’ll ring that cowbell as loud as you can and shout yourself hoarse. But you generally have no idea what’s going on in the race outside of what you see when they pass by.When you watch on a TV/computer, you miss out on the great crowd atmosphere, but you get to watch the whole race develop- you get to see the tactics and strategies, as well as follow specific riders to see how they crack or hold on.

This was a new type of race experience for me- I’ve gone to crit races (fast circuits on a downtown course, often a mile long) and cross races (fast circuits on an “obstacle course”), but never been to a proper road style race, with short laps on a downtown circuit and long laps that generally include a climb. This meant there was a long lag time between when we saw the riders. In addition, the commentators didn’t narrate the whole race, so it was hard to know what was going on. I feel like I’m working my way up the race ladder and next up will be domestic stage races (Colorado, California, etc), then European classics, then Grand Tours! Europe, watch out- I’m comin’ for ya ;)

It was a fabulous weekend of great racing, GREAT friends, and fun times!

Enjoying Chattanooga by bike share!

Enjoying Chattanooga by bike share!

Fangirl mode, engage!

Recently I had the opportunity to fulfill a fangirl fantasy- I got to meet and have dinner with Ted King! Ted King is one of my favorite American cyclists for a variety of reasons- he’s funny, he has an awesome blog, he rides for one of my favorite teams (Liquigas-Cannondale), he’s cute, he’s tall… lots of very legitimate reasons make him my favorite, clearly. A Twitter friend alerted me to a dinner that was being put on by a LBS in Virginia. For a fee, you could have dinner with Ted King! Even though the dinner started later than I would’ve liked and was all the way in Virginia, I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t go! A couple of days before the event, I found out the Joe Dombrowski was also going to be there (he’s a young American rider who just got signed for a major pro cycling team, Team Sky).

I was actually really nervous- I don’t do well around strangers. It’s not that I’m awkward, it’s that introducing myself to strangers and making small talk with them is a bit stressful for me and wears me out. I prefer to avoid it! I was the first to get there and luckily my other Twitter friend Steph was the second one there. In the end, there were only about 13 people- it made for a really nice night! When I finally got to talk to him, I thought I was very charming ;) We talked about RAGBRAI and I think I convinced him to ride it once he retired! Hey Ted, if you ever need a RAGBRAI team to join, I’m sure I can find one for you to join!

When following these guys as professional cyclists, it’s easy to forget that they’re actually just ordinary people. Like any celebrity, they get built up in your mind and seem larger than life. If you ever get a chance to meet someone you look up to, it brings them back down to earth. Some people do get changed by fame, but many stay pretty much the same. Sometimes it wasn’t until he say something about Liquigas or a big race or a teammate that I’d be reminded that he was part of the world I only read about! After dinner, there was a question and answer session with Joe and Ted. People asked a lot of questions to Joe about his move to Sky and his time on Livestrong-Bontreger. It made me realize that being an armchair fan is a lot different than actually being in the races, doing all the work. He talked a lot about how awesome it was to get invited to Tour of California and Utah. And I thought, wow, all we thought about when we heard that news was how there must be something dodgy going on for that team to get invited over some of the domestic teams. But for Joe, he has no idea (nor does he probably care) about why they might get invited to races- he’s just excited at the chance. And who’s to say that Joe would’ve gotten picked up by Sky if he hadn’t been at those races, holding his own against the big boys. The best thing to come out of the evening was just a reminder that most of these guys we follow and maybe even look up to, are just regular guys- you’ve got jerks, shy guys, funny guys, and super nice guys. So just like real life, we shouldn’t expect them all to be someone we could be best friends with (or boyfriends. Just sayin’).

Bike Fit: No Silver Bullet

I finally did it. I finally went and paid for an honest-to-goodness bike fit. I’m not entirely sure what motivated me to do something I’ve been talking about for ages, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I just got tired of being uncomfortable on my bike. If you’ve followed my bike journey on this blog for any length of time, you know that I suffer from serious saddle issues. Pressure on my lady bits and pressure on my sits bones plague me, despite trying a variety of saddles. As I was riding this summer, all of a sudden I realized that it was ridiculous that I’m afraid to do any rides longer than 4o miles because I know my butt can’t handle it. The whole saddle issue, aside from being uncomfortable and painful, was setting limits on how/where I was willing to ride my bike and I didn’t like that. So I finally took the steps necessary to set up a bike fit!

The first step was working up the courage to call, and that took some time. Then it took some time to actually get a hold of someone to schedule my fit. Then the guy I was going to see had a booked schedule, so he couldn’t fit me in for about 2 weeks. So it took awhile to actually get to the actual fitting. But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter. I had already waited ages to do this, what was a few more weeks?

I got my fitting at a place in Virginia (Freshbikes) and had decided to ride from work. It was maybe 8 miles, so not that far, but I hadn’t been on my bike in about 3 weeks- a screw holding the saddle to the seatpost came undone and it took me that long to find a replacement. So while 8 miles isn’t that far, when you haven’t been on the bike for 3 weeks, it can do a lot of damage to your backside!

Having your position and body scrutinized that closely on the bike was a bit awkward. I’m not terribly comfortable with how I look in the Lycra of cycling clothing and honestly, this was the part I was least looking forward to when I thought about a bike fit. But I just kept telling myself, they’re not here to judge, they’re here to help. Just because I don’t look like a skinny racer doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be comfortable on my bike just as much as they are.

I actually felt pretty proud of myself for not crying while talking about the whole situation. Talking about my saddle situation with people who really know cycling is hard, because it has really affected my relationship with the bike. I really do love cycling so much, but when something as simple as my saddle causes me so much pain and makes me not want to ride, I get sad. And when I feel like I’ve tried everything but nothing seems to work, it’s emotional, as I’ve poured a lot of energy into my bike and this problem. But I held it together.

I really, really wanted him to have the silver bullet for this werewolf problem. I wanted him to find some magic adjustment that hadn’t been tried before that would suddenly make me comfortable on my saddle. As you can probably guess, this didn’t happen. He was very thoughtful and thorough during the fit. But while there are so many things you can adjust on a bike, sometimes there isn’t a magic fix. In the end, he confirmed my suspicions: saddles are a very personal thing and there’s no magic formula to find the one that works for you. However, the fit did provide some comfort. I was afraid the issue was the geometry of my bike- that’s not something you can fix. Bad geometry usually means having to buy a new bike. But he assured me that not only was the geometry of the bike fine, the little adjustments made by previous bike shops had actually helped overall. So the issue really is just my anatomy and the saddle.

So for all you ladies out there suffering through saddle issues, I’m sorry to say that even a bike fit won’t solve all your problems. But a bike fit can help isolate the problems. The bike fit didn’t make my butt feel better, but it helped reassure me that the way I was sitting on the bike wasn’t aggravating the issue. I feel it was money well spent just on those grounds. Now I just need to sit my ass on as many saddles as possible to try and find “the one.” My plan is to call up all the local bike shops, see what brands they carry, and inquire if they have  saddle testing program. Some shops have loaner saddles you can try out. Others will let you try before you buy. And some let you buy a saddle, but then return it if it doesn’t fit. If I don’t have any luck with the local shops, I’ll start looking online at lender programs or at websites that have forgiving return policies! It won’t be fast, but hopefully eventually I find “the one” that will let me ride as long as I like.

As a side note: You may (or may not!) have been wondering where I’ve been and why I’m not writing much. There are a couple of reasons. First, I’ve started up a cycling podcast, and that takes a lot of my time and energy. I have been writing, but most of it has been pro cycling related, which I have been posting on my podcast blog. If you have any interest in pro cycling, you should check out the Pelotonitis Podcast blog! Second, I’m entering my 2nd year of bike ownership. This means I’m doing fewer and fewer things which are brand new to me. I see this blog as a way to chronicle my journey and share my experiences as a newbie. As I’m being coming less of a “nOOb” and more of an experienced cyclist, I’m trying to figure out how to keep sharing my thoughts, but without being repetitive. I’m committed to sharing my experiences, and helping newcomers to the sport (especially women!) become comfortable on the bike!

Walls, Weddings, and Riders: Philly Race 2012

I guess it’s about time for me to write up my trip to Philadelphia to see the TD International Cycling Classic. Two weekends ago, I caught a rdie up to Philly with a Twitter friend, Steph (@StephBDC), who lives in the area. This was my only my second pro race (3rd, if you count Cross Championships, like I surely do) and it was definitely the biggest one I’ve been to. The only other races I’ve been to are the Air Force Cycling Classic races in Virgina. While those are exciting, they are of a bit smaller scale. ANYWAY, this time, not only was I going to watch the race, but I was also going to volunteer. I was “roped into” volunteering by a Twitter friend, so I was going to help with one of the VIP tents. I was a bit nervous about that, but it sounded like fun!

We got to Philly on Saturday afternoon and had some time to walk around Philly before the volunteer meeting. During this sightseeing trip, we saw advertisements to visit the local penitentiary, people standing in an orderly line to take pictures with the Rocky statue, dueling wedding party pictures (okay, not dueling, but would’ve added spice if they were),  and an Army transport vehicle rolling up in front of the museum steps to have their picture taken.

Orderly line for the Rocky statue

Race day was beautiful- sunny but not too hot. The main part of my volunteering job was arranging rides around the course for VIPs. They had a bunch of vans, cars and motos for the VIPs to ride in around the course, at the end of the caravan. A big perk of this job was that I got to ride in those vehicles as well! So I got to pre-ride the course before the race, ride around the course twice while the race was going on AND ride the course on a moto!! It was amazing. It really helped me get a feel for the whole race that I wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.

Riding up Manayunk Wall

The first time we drove of Manayunk Wall, I just about died. it just keeps going and going and going and parts of it are wicked steep. I couldn’t imagine riding up it more than once! The crowds on the wall and on Lemon Hill were fantastic. They were a little weaker downtown, but I think it was because it was easier to drink and picnic at the other places.

To be honest, I didn’t pay super close attention to the races, mainly because the majority of our work took place right after the peloton went by- that’s when the cars came in and they switched passengers. I didn’t get any photos of the women’s race because it started about 10 minutes after the men and we were too busy with cars when they came around! However, by the last few laps of the men’s race, our job was done and we got the watch the end of the race inside the VIP tent. Perks!

Alexander Serebryakov takes the win

Those guys are so fucking fast and I love it. I love the pain and suffering and the way the pour all of themselves into their racing. I could just watch those guys ride all day. Although I’m sure they would prefer to not ride all day. It was a really great trip and a great race and a great experience. I was excited to meet Steph and Heidi (@heidimo6)! I’ll definitely be back next year!

Check out more photos here! Also follow me on Twitter.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,799 other followers