Procrastination has bitten me in the ass

...and lower back and hips.  My chronically cranky (as of the past 2+ months) lower back finally reached the breaking point in the past week--just in time for the arrival of my new bike (why naturally!).  I managed 2 weak rides on Gossy before I had no choice but to leave him in the garage for the weekend.  Friday and Saturday the rugrat and I put in a couple of easy runs.  Saturday our loose plan was to do 2ish miles together, then I would add another 1-3 solo.  But I was hurting through my hips (primarily on the left side) from the very first step.  I was actually thankful that he was feeling somewhat unmotivated and happy to take many walk breaks.  I was not up for anything more ambitious than that.

This guy pretty well explains what I've got going on:

I had planned to make a call to a nearby sports med office if I didn't have some relief by today (Monday).  Over the past few days I have been yoga-ing the hell out of my back and doing some gentle core strengthening work, as well as exercises to strengthen my glutes and things are feeling a bit better, so I'm holding off.

I've always thought of my butt muscles as being strong, BUT I think this was more the case when I was running more than 10ish miles/week.  Clearly big ≠ strong, heh.  Running is one of the very best butt-strengthening exercises there are, but for about the past 6 months the balance of my workouts have tipped strongly in-favor of cycling...something that strengthens my quads, but my glutes and hamstrings have likely been allowed to languish a bit, as a result.  Having overly strong quads without equally strong glutes, hammys and core is pretty much recipe for things getting yanked painfully out of alignment (and this would likely explain why tough uphills on the bike always made it feel like my glutes were being yanked downwards, dragging my lower back along--ow!).  For months my lower back has been whispering at me to pay attention and get back to the variety that has worked so well for me in the past.  I also need to consistently work on core strength and flexibility.  I don't really enjoy these exercises, but I loathe pain and being unable to run and bike even more. Having a brand new bike collecting dust in the garage is NOT making me a happy girl, at the moment.

The only upside to all of this is that it's taking place towards the end of competition season.  This would be a miserable thing to deal with if the weather were nicer.  As I type this Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on the East Coast and the edges of that storm system are having an effect on our own weather, as well.  The next couple of days won't be nice for outdoor workouts, so more yoga and perhaps some gentle  "nowhere biking" will be on the agenda, instead.  This Winter regaining running fitness, strengthening my core, and dropping some weight need to be my top priorities--not grinding away on the nowhere bike for hours in front of the TV.  That activity almost certainly is especially detrimental, since I am not even using my core for balance when my bike is on the trainer.

I was really bummed yesterday to skip out on a cyclocross race that I likely would have won for the women's C field, based upon where I typically placed relative to other racers who were in attendance yesterday (BUT the woman who did win was moved up to Bs...so I really dodged a bullet, there!).  It was sorta bittersweet watching DH kick major butt during the B master's race.  The # of benched riders associated with our LBS is growing.  I really want to be off that bench for the race in 2 weekends.


Worth. The. Wait!!!

About 72 hours ago our LBS texted the following to my phone:
Introducing: Gossamer, the 2013 Salsa El Mariachi 3
aka "Gossy"
I'm not kidding when I say that I think my heart stopped for a brief moment.  Or maybe that was the sensation of my gut flip-flopping in my abdomen.  Anything I'd planned to do that afternoon was tossed aside.

I showered, inhaled a quick lunch, made the hour trip to our LBS, walked in, and found my new friend up high on a rack with a "sold" sign hanging from his handlebars.

I picked out a seat bag (for spare inner tubes, snacks, and other necessities), a bottle cage, and Nate -- one of Velo City Cycles' super mechanics -- cut about 11/8" off of the handlebars on each side, bringing them from 28" wide to ~26" (my previous bike had 24" handlebars and I knew the stock handlebars were too wide for me after demoing the El Mariachi 2, recently).  Mike "MC" flipped the stem, since it was set-up pretty upright for me.

Me, Jan, Sophia, Pea
While I was in the shop my friends Pea and Jan arrived (Jan with fresh cookies from her bakery--bonus!!!) and another "Short but Mighty Race Team" (™MC, I think) member, Sophia.  Only shorty missing was our friend Kaat.  Eventually I think we will all have taken a few miles on this bike.  Thus far I am the only one with a 29er (Kaat has a Salsa Mukluk that she has converted to a 29er, but the geometry is a bit different, so handling would not be quite the same).  Sophia is in the market for a new MTB, so she's particularly interested in giving my bike a spin to see if she would like the big wheels, too.

After paying for our new family member, Gossy and I were ready to head home, picking up DS at school on the way.

Gossy meets Dash -- yes, we name everything, even cars
Gossy was surprisingly easy to fit in my car, even though it has those big wheels (and really big tires--high profile and pretty wide).  It doesn't help that this bike weighs 2-3#s less than my previous bike.  that doesn't seem like a lot, but my back has been pretty jacked-up for the past couple of months (more on that later), so I notice every extra ounce when I have to hoist a sort of cumbersome object into a relatively small back-end of a vehicle (and still have space to fit an 11 year old person in the back, too.  Life with bikes will be easier when he's big enough to sit up front, for certain).

Speaking of life with bikes and kids who have grown up with more-bikes-than-humans (more bikes than humans and cats, combined, even).  Dane gets in the car and I say "hey, look at what I got!"  He looks around and notices nothing new.  Me: "look left."  He looks puzzled.  Me: "LOOK, my new bike."  DS: "oh...COOL!  Huh."  Yeah, it took him a moment.  He's not at all a stranger to sharing the backseat with a bike...but I'm not sure how he missed all that RED and shiny-ness.

Bike in the back!
Of course, we get home and he asks "hey, can I ride your bike?"  I told him that he's still a little small to ride it, but the XS/14" size is recommended for riders 5'2"-5'6", so soon.  He's just over 5', I believe.  By next Summer perhaps I will be willing to let him bomb around on it, some.  I'm afraid he's not want to give it up, though.  The difference between the Cannondale he is inheriting and this bike is profound.  The El Mariachi is not a high performance, lightweight, responsive machine relative to other bikes at the same price-point, but compared to that Cannondale it is still at least 2x the bike...which makes sense, since the original retail is 2x what that Cdale sold for, originally.

When we got home we had to leave Gossy in the car--it was POURING rain, complete with thunder and lightning.  No maiden voyage on Gossy that night, much less a run for DS and me.

The next day was rain-free, so I took a jaunt over to a nearby little park with some quiet, easy single-track for Gossy and I to get acquainted.  I took it really easy, because the handling is quite different from my previous bike, but also because I've been battling lower back evil for a couple of months and it's been at it's worst this week.  Last night I soaked in the tub with epsom salts and then popped magnesium and calcium before bed (I'm not good about getting enough of these minerals and I suspect that plays a factor in this chronic back irritation.  Our mattress may be in need of replacement after 10ish years, too.  I also need to be a LOT better about doing core work and/or yoga.  And last Sunday's hilly and horrifically rutted CX race really seems to have been the straw that broke the Zoomy's back).  This is the most severe and longest-lasting lower back issue I've ever endured.  I feel very fortunate to have never been prone to lower back pain (upper back/neck/shoulders...that's another story, thanks in large part to a certain feline who steals my pillow and pushes my head off at odd angles).

Truth be told, I wanted to get out to take some photos of the bike before big winds came and stripped what pretty leaves still remain on trees.

It was pretty wet from the previous day's rains, so I also took it easy to avoid crashing on the wet leaves and roots. Success!

Last night DH and I went back to the park to get some loops in before darkness fell.  He was on his Salsa Mukluk...we must have looked like an ad for Salsa!  I got my first fall on Gossy out of the way...and my 2nd.  The first fall was the result of sliding sideways along a root covered with loose leaves.  DH nearly lost it on the exact same spot.  He caught himself, I didn't.  I even ended up with a small scrape on the left side of my chin.  There were some little kids right there with their dad.  I made sure to get up fast and brush myself off so that they would have every reason to see that mountain biking isn't scary and falls are no biggie.  The little boy was funny and wanted to know why we ride with water bottles on our bikes.  Kids notice those funny details that we don't think twice about after riding on a regular basis for a while.

My 2nd fall was one of those stupid, klutzy kind of things with a bit of new bike, new handling learning curve thrown in.

I'm really glad I held out for the 2013, instead of snatching up a 2012 a month or two ago.  My previous bike had SRAM shifters and I found the triggers to require a lot of oomph to shift to a larger gear on the front rings.  But I was never really sold on grip/twist shifters.  I took a spin around a parking lot on a friend's bike with the exact same Shimano triggers that equip the 2013 and found them to work better with my small, pathetically weak hands, heh.  I'm pretty content with a triple on mountain bikes, too, even though my road and CX bikes both have SRAM compact doubles (which worked better for my smaller hands than the Shimano road shifters I had on my first road bike).

If I had one criticism of the bike it might be the overly long steerer tube on a small bike (they likely use the same tube for all sizes of the bike), but that's something that can easily be cut.  Right now there is about 1/4" of spacer above the stem and at least 11/2" underneath.  I could do with at least an inch being removed.  DH doesn't mind a bunch of spacers atop his stem, but I don't like the look or the risk of a big dent in my sternum if I landed funny.  And my bike computer won't fit on the stem if we stack spacers on top, either.

Not sure I love the stock tires, either.  They seem great on sand, but a little high-profile, which makes the standover pretty high and they feel a little sketchy on tree roots (hence my first fall and a few other eek moments).  Of course, I can't see the roots under the leaves, so it could very well be that I'm not rolling over the roots like I would if I could see them.  Once I get out to a really sandy trail system near us (may not be until closer to Spring, since they will be closing to bikes in < 1 week and open entirely to hunters) I will probably appreciate those monster tires.  Pretty soon I may find them really valuable on snow, too. *sigh*


Scenes from my Saddle

I'm continuing to have so much fun using Instagram.  I'm not actually using the app to record each photo (I use an iPhone app called ProCamera, which seemed to yield the most control and best results of any app I'd tried), though maybe I should give that a try.  Right now it's a multi-step process using a separate app to take each image.  This isn't all that cumbersome, however, since I'm not doing any Instagram manipulation until later.

Today I rode 31+ miles including a pass through one of my very favorite parts of our area.  Duck Lake State Park was especially lovely on this blustery day.  Here are 3 of my favorite shots taken from my bike (while stopped and straddling the top tube--I am far too big a klutz to actually shoot while moving...and I like my phone too much to risk dropping it).
Lake Michigan

Speaking of scenes from the saddle, a couple of weeks ago I found video that someone had done from a handlebar-mounted camera during our Kisscross race on September 30.  At the start my kid yells "Go, Kirsten" and friends cheer "Go, Zoomy!"  If you zip ahead you can actually see me pass on the left at 13:08.  In about a minute's time I jumped from women's 6th to 4th place (this is after getting pushed into the tape around a crowded corner, then having to readjust my saddle, which gotten knocked cock-eyed on a plastic pole. It took me over a lap to catch back up to the field).


Instagram has "jumped the shark"

Of course it has, because I opened an account and am creating my very own square "masterpieces" of previously shot images on my cell phone.  I predict it will be a has-been within 6 months, heh.

For anyone not in the know, I actually possess a BA in Photography -- under the umbrella of my alma mater's Communications department and my minor was in Sociology with a heavy dose of Cultural Anthropology coursework, so my bent has always been towards more of a photojournalism or environmental portraiture style of capturing images on film...er...or on memory card, nowadays.

For a while I was doing some candid portraiture work, primarily weddings.  I was just starting to see an uptick in my business about a year after I got it off the ground.  Then the economy really tanked and the number of calls and e-mails I received exponentially dwindled to nothing.  The fall of the economy only tells part of the story--now everyone has a friend or relative with a "fancy," high megapixel camera (I once had a guy tell me that he and his bride-to-be couldn't hire me for their wedding because my professional grade camera had fewer megapixels than their point-n-shoot camera...fer realz.  Nevermind the fact that my lenses each cost more than his point-n-shoot and the lens is FAR more important than the # of megapixels in the final-product equation), so paid pros started falling by the wayside.  It started with photographers simply selling the digital files outright to be able to offer a cheaper product -- but a product that took creative control of the final product out of their hands.  It also removed the ability to work as an artisan paid appropriately for his/her skill, eye, and training.  Those thousands of dollars invested in college tuition, equipment (2 of everything to guarantee no technical difficulties mid-wedding), insurance, marketing...none of that comes for free.  I've talked to a couple of self-employed photographers who shuttered their own businesses in recent years.  And a friend of mine recently left the studio she'd worked at for years (in their front office) -- their business was rapidly dwindling after decades in business.  I had worked in their lab for a couple of years during college.  Back in the mid-90s business was booming, but that was when film was still king.

Nowadays the "Photography" I do essentially amounts to funnin' with my cell phone.  I really can't be bothered to drag my beefy DSLR around.  Sure, quality suffers, I lose control over exposure and depth-of-field, and I can't make 20x30 enlargments, even with 8 megapixels (I could do this with my 6.3 megapixel Canon 10D), but I have the ease of uploading everything to iPhoto and/or Facebook and sharing with friends and family digitally.  This is so much more ideal than print photography, because everyone is so far-flung nowadays.

The biggest downside with cell phone photography is the inability to do much post-processing.  I miss the creativity of the darkroom, even if the darkroom is simply Photoshop.  This is where programs like Instagram come in.  I've tried similar apps, but I really never found them to yield results I liked as well.  And I really like the forced square format.  My eye has always liked the uniformity of square.  I grew up during the Polaroid era, so casual snapshot documentation of every event was confined to that little square.  It's a throwback that I'm really happy to see returning.

Rapid in Grand Rapids, MI
Anyhow, last night's insomnia yielded some fun results.  I did a few more this AM after going back through my iPhone's camera roll and finding more gems that struck me as shots that could be extra cool with some tweaking:
Fast rolling on Grand Rapids, MI cobblestone

Zoomy Hubby
Duck Lake State Park, MI

Gravel road roller
Hubby kickin' ass on his now retired "CX" bike
Lake Tahoe
My first Instagram "masterpiece"
I think this might be my favorite...


*stretch* *yawn*

Today is definitely one of those Mondays when I feel like I can't get out of my own way.  It's a gorgeous, sunny Fall day with huge, bright, poofy clouds.  Our sugar maple by the garage is nearly blinding in the intensity of chartreuse and orange leaves.  But it's also pretty gusty outside...definitely a day to hold onto one's hat!  At this rate the leaves will not last long.  I have that vague feeling of dread as I consider what our area will look like in a week or two--naked and brown.  At least I have an impending mountain bike delivery to give me something to look forward to.

On Friday (3 days ago) DH took the day off and we hit the newest mountain bike park in the area, the Merrell Trails (yes, that Merrell...the wonderful Wolverine Worldwide shoe line.  WW is headquartered right here in West MI).  It was his second trip to the trails and my first.  I must say that the park lived up to its reputation.  What an amazing place!  I really look forward to exploring it more, especially trying it in the reverse direction (on alternating days it runs either clockwise or counter-clockwise to help the trail not wear unevenly).

Salsa Cycles was doing a demo day while we were there, so I even had the opportunity to do my first loop on the upgraded version of the bike I will be receiving soon (like, this week soon.  According to the Salsa guys they shipped the El Mariachis last Thursday and they take 4 business days, so any day now!).

I really liked the El Mariachi 2 (mine will be a 3), though it did handle a lot differently from my current bike.  In large part because the handlebars were WAY too wide for me.  I was really feeling it in new places on my arms and upper back by the end of that brief ride.  Right away we'll be having at least an inch lobbed-off on either side of my bars.  I think my current bars are 24" and the stock bars on the El Mars are, I believe, 28".  So starting with 26" is probably a wise plan.  There were some narrow spots through trees that I simply walked.  I didn't feel confident trying to get those wide bars through on an unfamiliar bike.  And I ate the ground at least once when I tagged a tree with the bars.

One thing that was VASTLY different with the El Mariachi was the way I didn't really feel uphills on the trails.  After returning the demo bike and doing 2 more laps on my current bike I was suffering.  Wow, what a difference.  Granted, that El Mariachi was almost 3x more expensive than my bike was at full retail, but...wow.  My new bike will be about 2x the price of my Cannondale, so it should still be a much, much better bike for climbing.  It weighs a few pounds less, even with bigger wheels.

It was also nice riding with a woman that we know via Facebook.  She participated in our ODRAM ride this year and we have mutual friends.  She also demo'd a couple of bikes and we really had a good time chattering about our bike-related passions as we rode.

Look at that skinny stride!
I took Saturday easy, with just a 2 mile run/walk with my rugrat.  He has already come so far with his running. The first week he was running his average mile pace was 14:10. Week 2: 13:23, week 3: 12:40.  This week will be his 4th week and I expect he's going to be closer to a solid 12 minute/mile pace with minimal walking.  As it is he did one 2.1 mile run in his 2nd week when he only walked for about .1 of a mile...mostly because a couple of little dogs were loose and running from their house and we didn't want to encourage them to run further from their people.  I expect that his first 5k race on Thanksgiving could be sub-30 minutes.  My first 5k 6.5 years ago was a 31:13...little punk!

On Sunday we woke dark and early in preparation to make the 1:20 drive to the day's cyclocross race.  The C race (my event) starts at 11, so we wanted to be there about an hour early for me to register and warm-up.  We're still trying to talk the kiddo into doing the 1-lap kids' race, but he's not super interested, so we don't push the issue.  He's really enjoying running with me, so I'm just happy that he's happy to do that.  He also wanted to play with his trombone at the park and heckle the racers by horn.

I was really looking forward to this race.  Last year this venue was the unofficial Kisscross Halloween race.  It was also was a really enjoyable race for me, so I anticipated a repeat pleasant experience.

My warm-up lap was pretty unnerving, at least for about half of the course.  Shortly after starting we have to ride down a really rough, rutted, gravel hill, then make a hard right turn and go a few pedal strokes before dismounting and climbing back up an even steeper section of that sort of bluff.  This was sandy and loose and full of long weeds and branches and assorted yuck.  At the top we'd get back on our bikes, do a little zig-zag, then back down a relatively steep and fast hill with another turn at the bottom...then back up a smallish hill, down, up, up a ramp, then down an off-camber and sandy bit before making another brutal, but short climb.

All of this loose stuff and sharp turns at the bottoms of hills really had me a bit rattled.  I don't do particularly well on making my bike stop (perhaps it's time to look into better brake pads.  My brakes are low-end, but better pads would likely help them to grip the rims better and aid my stopping power).  I have learned after doing at least a dozen CX races that the warm-up lap rarely has much bearing on my actual race experience.  I think the oxygen deprivation suppresses the fear and sanity portions of my brain during the actual race.  Things that should terrify me no longer do.  I go into "let's get this shit over with as fast as we can" mode.

The weather yesterday was pretty chilly and damp.  Off-and-on drizzle seemed to keep the crowds light, at least the C race seemed smaller than usual.  My women's C race typically has had 7-8 participants, but yesterday there were only 5 of us.  Last week's winner was moved up to the Bs and a friend of mine was also absent, so maybe that accounted for the light field.

I started sort of smack-dab in the middle of the C field (still smiling, because I'm a fool!).  I was a bit further-up than I like, since I tend to start slow and hate feeling underfoot of faster riders in the first lap.  The really tricky stuff is early in the race, too, so I especially didn't want to be going up and down technical hills with faster folks bearing down on me.  A minute or so into the race  I had that expected wave of terror/apprehension/regret/stupidity overcome me.  I know this feeling...it happens every time.  Fortunately it seems to hit about the same time that my lungs rebel, so my brain can't hold those feelings long before the need to get oxygen in NOW takes precedence.

Zoomy zoomin'
Somehow I managed to get through the scary parts of the first lap without getting run-over or crashing (so far I've yet to fall this season *knocks on wood*).  Even more shocking was the fact that I was somehow in first place for the C women...WTF?!

For the rest of the race I was pretty much leap-frogging a sweet 12 year old boy who does all of these races and is nearly as willowy as my own almost-12 year old (we actually had a moment of chit-chat during our 3rd lap during a flatter stretch).  I can't recall which of us ended up finishing first...  What I do recall is my friend Kaat being all over that course and telling me that I was in the lead.  During the first lap she made it clear to me that the 2nd woman was gaining on me.  For a brief bit I felt like backing-off...if I was in 1st it must mean that I'm going out too hard and am going to pay later in the race.  And then I realized how foolish that thought was.  Go big or go home, girl!

By the 2nd lap no one was telling me that anyone was gaining on me...it was surreal and nothing I've ever experienced in any race.  For the rest of the race it was simply cheers from Kaat and MC (the guy that keeps us in bikes) and my husband yelling "Go, Zoomy, you're in FIRST PLACE!!!" (typing that now makes me really misty, for some reason).

I spent most of the race with the singular goal of keeping my lead, not doing anything stupid, and enjoying myself.  I succeeded at all 3.  The 2nd woman did have a faster last lap than I did, but I think mostly because I fully expected to only finish 3 laps before they started pulling us from the course (we have ~30 minutes for our race.  If a person's laps are 10 minutes they are likely to be pulled after they complete lap 3.  I was finishing my laps well under 10 minutes, which I totally didn't expect).  I was really tiring and I knew I had a decent lead, so I didn't want to let overexertion make me sloppy and clumsy--I KNOW how I get.

Maybe a half mile from the finish on an out-and-back bit I saw that the 2nd place woman was closing my lead, so I pushed it harder for that last stretch to guarantee not losing my win, should she have a sudden and unexpected sprint left in her legs.  This wasn't difficult, since it was the stretch of the course that I liked best...a bit of a single-track dive in the woods, followed by some meadow 2track, finishing with a brief uphill singletrack grunt and sprint to the finish.

I finished in FIRST PLACE (yay!!!) 23+ seconds before the next woman.  Only 3 of the 5 women in the C race even finished all 4 laps.  And I'm reasonably certain that I was the oldest woman in the race and probably have a few pounds on all those other whipper-snappers, too.

And to think, 2 years ago I said I would never do a cyclocross race (I also said I would never mountain bike, but there is no doubt that my meager time riding singletrack this year has made me a much stronger and more skilled CX racer) and now I wonder if I could even manage to race B Masters, in the future.  Some bike improvements (better wheels that stay trued and weigh less and brakes that stop, for starters) and some ME improvements (ie dropping at least 20#s of excess baggage) could make it happen.  It's sorta surreal that I could even be thinking in these terms....