Adversity and Evolution

Adversity and Evolution

With 50 meters to go I choked back tears. 

It had been well over a year since I last crossed a finish line, and I was blindsided with emotion. At the beginning of 2021 I was unsure if I would get here again, to take to a start line, and then cross a finish line. My first race back, my 3rd ever MTB race, and I was finishing in 2nd. Yeah, I was choking back tears, realizing this moment meant a lot more to me than I ever could have anticipated.  

Crossing my second finish line this year, I was consumed by the same emotion, just seconds away from uncontrollable sobbing. The third time across the finish line was special though. It was unlike any finish line I have ever crossed. It left its mark on me and I’ll forever be changed by it. More on this in a minute.

The pandemic has upset all of our lives, plans, dreams, and our goals. Many have suffered loss and continue to do so, and it’s far from over. But, we have also found ways to adapt, and even thrive. With a pause on racing in 2020 and no start to the international road calendar this year, I have had the opportunity to take a step back and redefine what it means to me to be an athlete. This was not an easy process. I’ve nearly always been part of a team, and lined up at local crit races, all the way up to world tour and international races, with a job and a team goal most of my 15 year racing career. It took time away from racing for me to realize that it is not the team or the start line that defines who I am as an athlete, but my own ability to push myself, and see what more I can get out of myself on a daily basis. 

I cycle because I love it, and because it empowers me to do other things that in turn hopefully empower others: to inspire and encourage kids and adults to develop bravery and determination through sport and adventure. I like to lead by example. Instead of sitting on the sidelines in 2020 and 2021, I mapped out my own challenges and adventures, stepping way outside my comfort zone, and competing on new ground. 

That third race was Co2uT, a 190 mile gravel (and sand, rocks, mud, and potholes) race in the Colorado and Utah desert covering the longest distance, most elevation gain, and longest time on the bike I’d ever done. I finished in 3rd place for the women 11th overall, in less than 10 hours. 

Getting to the start line was admittedly the hardest part. I felt like I was racing my bike for the first time, entirely out of my element. I’ve lined up to more crits and stage races than I can count, and rarely would I experience nerves or concerns at those starts. I’m used to being focused and excited to execute my job. This was completely different; I could not have felt more green. My nerves leading up to the race were felt throughout my household. I have never done more research preparing for a race in my life, nor have I had more doubts and questions.

Was I riding the right bike? 

Aero bars or no? 

Am I on the right tires and running the correct tire pressure?

Hydration pack or vest, or just bottles or both?

How much food and what type should I consume?

How often?

Should I be prepared to go the full distance, or rely on aid stations?

How long will it take me?

Will I make it or will I have to bail out and distance down to a shorter course?

These were all the questions and doubts I was struggling with. I had never tested or pushed my body like this before, and I honestly had no idea how I would respond to such an ask both physically or mentally. There was plenty of self doubt, and I questioned why would I do this to myself, and how would I cope should I fail. 

I’m glad I never had to answer that last question! I never really thought that I would have to, because I’m not one to give up even when I probably should. But, this was so new to me I feared it may be a possibility. I could give a full race report, but what it comes down to is this: I showed up, believed in myself, I never gave up, and over the course of the race, I fell in love with the experience. I came across that finish line holding back sobs, because I knew I had leveled up as an athlete, pushing myself into new territory and out rode fear that day. 

Since Co2uT, I have crossed a finish line a few more times winning the 107 mile gravel race at the FoCo Fondo, and finishing Ned Gravel with an injured hamstring. Ned Gravel was a race I was just happy to finish, and was ok with that. The day was about the experience, putting in the effort, pushing through the discomfort, making the most out of my choice of bike (I experimented with a hardtail mountain bike, and learned it wasn’t the right choice for me.), enjoying the beauty and challenge of the course, and remembering the big picture of what the day’s ride was preparing me for later in the season.

I’m starting to find my groove and confidence in this new sport of gravel and endurance racing. The confidence is not to be mistaken for confidence that I will win or even finish every race though. It’s confidence knowing that I will take to the start line, be challenged, support other riders through their ride, and I will enjoy the experience and adventure of it all.

For those of you that are curious about how I ended up answering all those questions in my Co2uT race prep, below is the list of gear, nutrition and product that has worked for me in that race and others so far. It is ever evolving but I hope it helps someone in their own adventures. Please reach out if I missed anything or if you have specific questions.

Bike: Specialized S-Works Diverge (modified with no dropper post) Handle Bars: Enve SES AR Bars Tires: Specialized Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss 700×42 Power Meter: Sram AXS Power meter spider Pedals: Time ATAC XC 12 Titanium Carbon MTB Pedals.

Helmet: S-Works Prevail II Vent Shoes: S-Works Recon Lace Gravel Shoes Bibs: Specialized Women’s RBX Adventure Bib Shorts w/ SWAT™ Jersey, Socks, Gloves: I like to switch them up depending on weather Glasses: Julbo Rush Reactive performance lenses Hydration Pack: USWE outlander 2 Hydration pack and USWE Pace 2 running vest Nav Computer and HR Strap: Wahoo Element Bolt GPS / TICKR HR monitor Performance: Whoop Saddle Bag: Orucase Saddle Bag HC 25 Dry Case: Q36.5 Smart protector holds my phone, cash, key, mask.

Nutrition is individualized and you need to find what works best for you, the best time to experiment is in training, please never try something new on race day. The Feed is my go to resource for nutrition, they source the best products for athletes, do all the testing and research, and then share that knowledge with you, it’s a great way to try new product or subscribe to products you love. You can buy a sample of 1 or a whole case, its easy, they have fantastic customer service and other resources and they provide a tone of info about each product and the best way to use it.

On the Body: Live Momentous PR Lotion helps buffer lactic acid so you never feel that burn, Chamois Butt’r Anti Chafe, Post race Clean up and Laundry Detergent, Zealios Sun Screen.

Race Day Nutrition: Evening before and after race SIS REGO Cherry Juice Night Before SIS Sleep Plus Morning of Race Kyoku Superfood Shake, Swiss Rx Nitric Oxide, Enervit Pre Sport. During in my pockets Enervit Liquid Gel, Enervit Isotonic Gel, Clif blocks I like Salted Watermelon, Ginger Ale and Margarita, Maurten Gel 100, Neversecond C30Energy Gel. During in my Hydration pack and Bottles CarboRocket 333 Half Evil all in one Endurance Drink I mix one serving of the Half Naked Unflavored and one Serving of the Cold Brew + Caffeine in my hydration pack, this is where I get the majority of my calories from, I will mix one bottle of unflavored in my first bottle and my second bottle is plane water. Depending on the distance of the race I will bring single serving packets of Carbo rocket I love the Tart Cherry and or Skratch Labs Sports Hydration Single serving packs.

Depending on distance and race day temperatures ill mix it up and add other foods like pickles to help cut the sweet or salty chips, a baby can of coke, or a bar like JoJe Bars white chocolate coconut blondie is my goto, or Betty Lou’s Bars apple Pie is my favorite.

Here we are

Here we are

About a month ago I was waiting to make a big announcement.

A couple of weeks ago I watched my international race calendar fall apart. First, three stage races in China, then Italy. There was a small bit of hope amongst the team that the Tour of Thailand would still be on, but travel of any kind did not feel safe. I started focusing my efforts towards US races I could drive to, and I started accepting invites to ride for composite teams for upcoming stage races, building out a crit/gravel/MTB race season in my head to supplement until things were back on track. I competed in my first 2020 gravel race and won, then, as you know, all were cancelled.

With this news I went through a rollercoaster of emotions, but the one that sticks out and was the most surprising was a sense of relief. I had no idea just how much anxiety I had been experiencing around racing and training until racing was taken away. I have come to realize as I have had the time to process that my head has not been in a good place for a while.

Our family has been through a lot and I have spent the better part of 6 years feeling anxious, selfish, and fearful, that I would regret my choices no matter what path I went down.

To explain, my husband has a genetic disorder called Fabry Disease that is robbing him of his life. Fabry is the reduction of, or the total lack of a single enzyme in our bodies that breaks down lipids. Over the course of decades, the lipids build up in many parts of the body, and the kidneys and heart are most often affected first. He was diagnosed a few weeks before we met nearly ten years ago, and as the years have passed it has greatly effected his quality of life, and we have spent a lot of time in hospitals and a lot of time holding our breath waiting for the next blow.

In 2015 I was racing for Fearless Femme. We were sitting at a coffee shop having finished up a team ride, and were discussing team stuff. Phones were not allowed, but I had mine hidden in my lap receiving updates as Gino was going in for a kidney biopsy. I was upset with myself for not being there with him, and I was scared for him and for the test outcome. Eventually I had a meltdown and told the team what was going on, and apologized for not being present as my mind and my heart were with my husband.

This would be a common theme over the next 6 years. My head and heart have constantly been pulled in different directions, struggling to be present as I struggled to reconcile with the choices I was making.

As Gino’s body continued to be brutalized by this disease, decisions to continue to train race and travel became harder and harder to make. The conversation was to live a life with no regrets but this felt impossible, not spending every precious moment I have with Gino would lead to regret, not pursuing my life’s passion of sport would be a regret. It was a constant guilt-ridden battle to find balance. Together we made decisions, made sacrifices, and fought for Gino’s life.

In 2017, Gino’s kidney function had dropped to 9%, and while most people require dialysis at the 20% threshold, he fought through it and never did dialysis. Through reaching out to our network he was fortunate to receive the gift of life through a living donor kidney transplant from a coworker. Gino is a fighter, and an incredibly driven individual. Within a week after the transplant, he was back to running his company from home, and I was back to getting out for short rides mostly to allow myself to have a good cry, but also to create hope.

As we ticked off medical milestones things never got back to normal, but we had a new normal that was ours. We relaxed a little because we had to, and after encouragement from him, my attention and energy went back into training and racing for me, and continuing the success and growth of Gino’s company that provided security for us and his employees.

The stress, the worry, and the anxiety all had it’s effect on my training and racing, and for that I have guilt and regret, but I was doing the best I could at the time. When I was racing I kept telling myself to be present and in the moment, to make the most out of it because if I did not give it my all then this time away from Gino was wasted, all the sacrifices made leading up to this point, wasted. When things were not under threat and I was able to focus, I had glimpses of what my true potential could be. I saw what hard work and sacrifice could achieve.

In 2018 Gino was under great stress with work and was experiencing chest pain, after putting the company first for way too long, and days after his company was acquired, he had an angiogram and found that the main artery of his heart was 99% blocked, not because of unhealthy life choices but because the progression of his disease. They placed a stent that would fail a year later, requiring double bypass surgery.

Here we are today almost three months out from surgery. The world is in crisis and we are watching things unfold behind the relative safety of our devices. On a day-to-day basis not much has changed for us in terms of our health behavior. Ever since the transplant, we have taken all the necessary precautions of constantly sanitizing our environment, washing hands, avoiding crowds, and avoiding people who are sick, because Gino has to take daily meds that suppress his immune system.

We are both high risk. I have Asthma and an autoimmune disease. No one would know any of this by looking at either of us, and that is what is so scary about this pandemic. Everyday we see people choosing not to take it seriously or make the right decisions to protect themselves or the vulnerable in their communities. We are doing everything in our power to stay safe and keep others safe, so we are self isolating.

In this time I have gone through all the emotions for different reasons, as I’m sure everyone is experiencing right now.

I could go though the list of why I have fear, feel anger, sadness, frustration, and so on, but most of you are here because I am a cyclist and I share my experience as one. As a cyclist, watching the season crumble was really hard. Finding meaning in my training when I have no idea what I am training for took some time to reconcile, and looking at my bikes while not being able to ride them outside stopped me in my tracks one afternoon, and I just cried. I had to ask myself Why? Why do I train? Why do I compete? Those questions led me to here, to reflect back over my career, through all the struggles, sacrifices, and emotions.

Being an athlete is all I have ever wanted to be. From a young age I developed the mentality that I must push myself, and must achieve more than I could before, always growing, and never being satisfied with what I am currently achieving. That want – that need to be better is what makes me feel alive, and having the ability to keep pushing and fighting to achieve is what makes me happy, and grateful.

The feeling of physical or mental breakthroughs is unparalleled, pushing myself against my own goals to achieve or competing against others is a way to measure the work I have put in, but it’s also the relationships and community that comes with the traveling circus that is bike racing. Being an athlete has defined the majority of my life, so when I ask myself why, it’s because it is what make me feel alive, it’s what I love and without it I’m not sure who I would be. Professional athlete or not I believe I will always be an athlete, and will always strive to improve.

With no outside competition in sight, I continue to train because I love it. I love feeling fit and strong, seeing my body change, and witnessing what it is capable of achieving. I have given myself new goals and challenges all while staying the course for one day returning to the start line with my community.

The greatest thing that has come from this forced break from competition is the mental break and the anxiety of decisions needing to be made. Being away from Gino is gone since we are now together 24/7, and we are in lockdown. That has been fine, and good, and we certainly eat at home a lot more now.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this at ease around my training because it’s not tied to any upcoming races or travel. I am simply training again because I love it. My hope is that when competition does resume I will have a healthier mental relationship and preparedness with what I can take on, and be able to go into every race with focus not only for myself but for my teammates and all those who have supported me over the years.

Until then, I will be at home, riding indoors as not to take the risk of an unnecessary accident putting myself and family in further harms way, and putting unnecessary stress on an already stressed medical system. I will continue to support my local community by not going to scheduled appointments but still paying for them. We are ordering necessities from local businesses, and grossly over tipping those who are risking infection while shopping for and delivering goods to us at home. We are planting a garden to become more self sufficient, and running our dogs a lot so they let us sleep in longer. We’re cooking – so much cooking! We are reading actual books made of paper, and are facetiming with friends on the regular. I am coaching Gino back into physical health now that all restrictions from January’s open heart surgery have been lifted. He is on his MTB on Zwift, and even though he hates it he is doing it, we are also working on his functional mobility and working up to strength work. I continue ride on Zwift and am continuing with strength workouts as well, and have even brought back running in to the program. I’m avoiding time spent online, and focusing on being present and enjoying time with loved ones.

I hope you all can find a bit of peace in these turbulent times. Stay safe as you look out for the safety and wellness of your communities, understanding that things are not always as they seem. You never know who is vulnerable, or who is struggling. Be mindful, loving and caring because it will take all of us together to get through this.

Bike Fit

Bike Fit

You’ve been thinking about it, maybe obsessing about it for weeks or months. And then, this morning you woke up and decided it’s the day to buy a new bike. It may be your first bike in a long time, or maybe ever. Where do you start? First, find a bike shop. Maybe one comes recommended to you, or you simply find the one closest to your house. You walk-in, and a salesperson approaches and asks, “What brings you in today?” You say something like, “Um, I’m looking for a bike.” And so it begins.

Depending on the bike shop, the employee could be working on commission, or the shop numbers have been down so they need to sell a bike today to make payroll or move old inventory. Or maybe, they truly care about your experience, and want to put you on a bike that will make you fall in love with cycling. If it goes well, they’ve now earned your trust and acquired a return customer.

So who do you get? Depending on the shop and the motives of the sales associate, your experience can vary, and the outcome can either be a bad experience that keeps on giving, or, the start of a long, healthy relationship.

My first experience was the former. I walked into a used bike shop in Seattle. I was 18, and needed a way to get around to the three jobs I had at the time. I told the sales guy what I thought I was looking for, and he pointed me to a cluster of road bikes. I had never ridden a proper road bike, and was immediately scared. He then came over and pointed out a bike, and said, “That one, that one is perfect for you.” He asked me, “isn’t she pretty? It’s a spare bike from a pro team, Masi. Have you heard of it? It was custom painted for them. See the dark green sparkle and all those logos from the team’s sponsors? You won’t find another bike like this one! Throw your leg over it, now grab it by the bars and saddle and lift. Perfect. It fits you perfectly.” 

$400 later, a small fortune for me at the time, I was walking out the door with a new bike. I walked it down the street because I was terrified to ride it., I had no idea how to shift, and the tires were so skinny. Things felt hard to reach and unstable, but I was told I would “get used to it.” And, for the most part, I did. Eventually, I worked up the courage to ride, wobbly and uncomfortably at first, but I was riding. It took some amount of me staring at and hesitantly playing with them, but I figured out the click-click of the up and down Shimano shifting. I should have asked the sales guy at the bike shop, but I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I was so intimidated and nervous, I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and stop feeling like an idiot. Of course, what I know now is this was completely the wrong bike for me. 

Let’s look at some numbers, the Masi was a 54cm. I ride a 48cm. The stem was a 110. I ride a 110 (the one thing that was correct, but not with that 54cm top tube!). The bars were 42cm. I ride 38cm bars. The cranks were 170cm, and I ride 165cm. And don’t even get me started on the saddle… Over the next 10 years, I would go through saddle after saddle. Some would wear through my jeans in a week, and others would wear through in a month or two. And no matter what I tried, all would cause me great discomfort. Why was riding a bike so miserable? 

When you’re new to something, the questions that should be asked are nearly never asked because you simply don’t know. We often accept being uncomfortable, or even in pain because we don’t have an understanding that it should be any different. We’re often told, “ah, you’ll get used to it,” like riding a bike is something that everyone has to suffer through to perhaps enjoy somewhere down the road. Think about it. We don’t suffer with new shoes that fit well. Even a good pair of leather boots or shoes should be comfortable from the start, and not something to be broken in or get used to. A bike should be no different.

Many years, and many bikes later I would discover something called a bike fit. I honestly can’t recall my first experience because it was unremarkable. Again, it was someone else telling me I was comfortable and that I would get used to it. I didn’t. It was not until I experienced my first Retül fit that I learned what it meant to truly be comfortable on a bike. This experience was so life-changing on the bike that I decided to become a Retül fitter myself, and went to Retül University in Boulder, Colorado. Soon after, I began working with Studio Velo in Mill Valley, CA focusing on women’s specific fits. I wanted to create an environment for women to be comfortable talking about their soft bits, and help them ask the questions they did not know needed to be asked. 

Retül takes you, the rider, into account with the goal of collecting and analyzing your data to increase ride comfort, prevent injury and improve performance. Retül considers the rider’s limitations, past injuries current, and future goals, with an understanding that proper fit is a process – it’s never one and done. As you change, get stronger, or deal with challenges, so does your fit. 

So what is Retül? It’s the most advanced bicycle fitting system available today. 

A Retül bike fit is a dynamic process that uses 3D motion capture technology. It’s more than just a bike fit, it’s a way to learn about your body, figure out the root cause of your injuries, aches, pains and to help determine how a proper fit can help you achieve your cycling goals no matter your level of riding.

Using 3D motion capture technology, the Retül system accurately measures every degree of movement and millimeter of distance, providing you and your fitter with data to support the choices made during the fit. So in real time, you and your fitter work together to make decisions about your fit and your cycling experience, and with the real time 3D capture you see what the fitter is looking at. Nothing is a secret, no guessing, and no fitter telling you what you need to look like on the bike. Your fit is a conversation where everything is on the table.

How does it work? 

Step 1

Step one includes a pre-fit physical assessment, taking into account your body’s limitations, previous injuries, any current pain, and goals on the bike.  Expect to be asked to do a plank, touch your toes, and walk. How you move tells so much about your body, range of motion, and level of functionality. This is not a test that you pass or fail. Your body is simply telling a story, and your fitter is listening.

Step 2

Now it’s time to get on your existing bike, or on a fit bike. The fitter will then place LED markers on 8 different points of your body (think hinge points) which will be tracked by the Retül Vantage Motion Capture system. The system collects real-time, three-dimensional data from each pedal stroke creating a dynamic fit experience. In real terms, that mean you get to watch a moving stick figure avatar that is a real-time 3D motion capture of you pedaling and moving on the bike. You’ll see corresponding numbers that show your angles moving in real-time. How cool is that?!

Step 3

The real-time data is compiled into the Retul fit software so that the fitter can look at the numbers, discuss what they mean with you, and then start to dial you into your perfect riding position taking into account the information gathered during your pre-fit assessment. Things that may change during your fit, starting with your three contact points: your pedals, shoes, cleat placement, and insoles. Your next contact point is your saddle. This is what often takes the most time to dial in. We then look forward to your bars, bar width, shape and hood placement. 

Step 4

Once you and your fitter have dialed in your final bike position, the fitter will create a digital map of your final bike set up using the Retül Zin tool. The bike data and Zin tool measurements are generated into a complete fit report that you can reference anytime after the fit. Buy a new bike down the line? Your numbers are available and the new bike is ready to be dialed in.

Depending on the changes made during your fit, there can be an adaptation period where your body settles into the new setup. Often riders are comfortable for the first time so want to go out and ride all day, but we recommend easing into things to let your muscles adapt to the changes no matter how big or small, because on top of wanting to improve performance we also want to prevent injury. 

Not all bike shops have your best interest in mind, but many absolutely do care. Do your research: does the bike shop offer bike fits, and most importantly do they offer Retül 3D motion capture fits? Maybe the bike you are lusting after is not sold by the shop that offers Retül bike fits. That’s ok – you can still get a fit on a fit bike, and you will walk away with your report knowing what your fit numbers are, and what the fit should feel like. With this knowledge you can then go to any bike shop and get the bike you are after, and even negotiate to walk away with a new bike that has the right stem saddle and bars that you need. The best thing you can do for yourself to make that next new bike day great is to get a Retül bike fit.

Happy pedaling.