Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. Yes I would, If I only could...

It's only Tuesday, and I feel like I've taken a severe beating at work already this week. Between grading, teaching, planning, trying to stay on top of emails and discipline, meetings for kid's IEPS... just barely keeping my head above water over here.

Feeling like the hammer on Saturday :)
But riding home today, just cruising along after getting the ok to push back my workout to tomorrow from coach, I felt so grateful for this life. Yeah, sometimes it's overwhelming to work full time and try to be an elite athlete, but I LOVE my job. I never dread going to work in the morning, and most days, when I stop and look around, I feel such pride for the math my students are doing, for the conversations I hear when they are discussing how to do specific problems, for their work on assignments and tests. I also felt incredibly grateful for SoCal this week, where the temperatures are finally reasonable and the early mornings perfect for commuting. I felt thankful for the awesome team of people in my corner, from Nicola encouraging me to work on having balance in life, to Brendan tolerating me being on my (re-his) bike all day Saturday, to coach always adapting my training to fit my crazy weekend rides and physically demanding job. I am one freaking lucky kid.

And I'm feeling especially grateful for this past weekend's adventures (which are probably hugely to blame for feeling like a nail this week, haha). How cool is it to do an 8 hour ride within an hour of my house on all new to me trails that blew my mind ALL DAY!? We rode some descents that I could not stop freaking out over. Merril trail, you HAVE to go there if you are in SoCal. SO. MUCH. FUN! And the views, Peanut butter, chocolate, banana Clifbars, tunnel!!, awesome climbs, and In-n-out milkshake at the end were all icing on the 50 mile 11k ascent cake!

All pictures from this weekends epic San Gabriel Ride thanks to action photag Carl. 
This picture doesn't do the tech on the trail justice. It was rock problem after drop after rock problem with a ledge and exposure to boot. Awesome, challenging, perfect. 
There are some BIG rocks in the San Gabriel mountains!

It's ok to feel like the nail, but I'm just going to sit over here reflecting on the good things and this crazy busy, tiring, never ending to-do list week will eventually come to an end :) Off to do some more grading!


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thank You Sho-Air and Scott Tedro!!!

You may have seen the press release this week, but if not, some shocking news hit the MTB community Monday. Sho-Air Cycling Group has ended a 10 year run of supporting the US mountain bike race scene by putting an end to sponsoring the US Cup XC series. This news was a bit of a shock to me, because as long as I have been racing SCG has been putting on the highest level XC mtb races in the US. Because of the dedication of Sho Air International President Scott Tedro, I had access to a bunch of armature races, and then when I upgraded to 'pro' I had access to high level races with international competition. Races that lit the fire in my soul to race bikes, to start training with a coach and to give mountain biking everything I had to see how far I could go. I'm almost certain that without the financial support, hard work and enthusiasm of Tedro there wouldn't have been an XC season at all in 2015.
Team Ridebiker with Tedro in 2016


I am feeling incredibly grateful right now. This news is a huge reminder of the opportunity I received as a byproduct of SCG putting on the US Cup. I am so grateful that Tedro spent so much time and energy fighting to hold World Cup level races here in the US, where I gained valuable experience and earned points towards World Cup qualification. I'm grateful that because of the prestige and payout of the US Cup international riders, Olympians, national and world champions came to the races here in the US, giving me the chance to race with the world's best. I got to watch these riders, learn from them and build my name when I landed on podiums with them.

Thanks Scott, I'm so lucky to have raced XC in the height of US cross country, when your races gave us all reason to be excited and to duke it out for the US Cup title, jersey and belt buckle.

There is so much more I want to say, to thank Tedro for, but this has been an epic-ly long/hard week, and I need to go to sleep. This early to bed thing makes it hard to get stuff done, but I know it's what is keeping me going.

US Cup series podium 2016 

It's hard to imagine what's going to happen to the XC race season now. I'm sure there will still be a PRO XCT series, the US national series which usually includes 7-8 races across the US, but it's hard to believe that any of them will be HC level, the highest ranking of XC races outside of a World Cup. It doesn't affect me too much now that I am focusing mainly on endurance racing, but I wonder what will happen to the development of US mtb talent. How will up and coming racers get the experience they need with high level competitors in large fields? How much harder will it be for those riders to earn the points necessary to qualify to race world cups? Will any other sponsors step up and help shoulder the financial cost that SCG generously provided for so long? 




Monday, September 18, 2017

Aspen50

Student: 'How was your weekend, Mrs. Connors?'
Me: 'Well I met Lance Armstrong, so it was pretty awesome!'
Student: 'Who is that?'

Highschoolers, reminding me every day that no matter how great you think you are, soon you will be replaced/forgotten/unimportant. hahaha

This weekend Lance also told me that blogging is so dead and that I need to get with the times and take up Snapchat and Instagram live instead... being told I'm out of date by an old dude and teenagers in a 48 hour period, yeah, this is my life.

I looked forward to this past weekend for so long that it's hard to believe it's over. After Park City Point 2 Point this is my second to last race of the year, and the last trip to the mountains outside of CA for a while. I was stoked to see fall in Aspen, to ride in cooler temps with a carpet of yellow confetti on the trail and vistas of glowing yellow, orange and green mountain sides. And I got all those things plus some quality time with Aspens finest residents, Pam Alexander who put me up and who spent hours helping prep me for the race along with Rachel Beck and (non Aspen-ite) Nicola Carnmer my team manager. I am one lucky kid. 

The race itself was a blast, highlights of which include:

A 5 mile neutral roll out that had me itching to go fast, chomping at the bit and maybe taking selfies with Lance... 
Yep, I did that... nerd status!
Thought I could hang with this kid... WRONG!!! :)
The first climb annihilated me, because I am 100% unacclimated to altitude and thought it was a great idea to try and keep up with the boys. No, not a good idea. Racing from 8,000 to 10,000 from the gun is NOT something to be taken lightly... oops, again.

A collection of trails on the east side of the valley had my jaw dropping due to ridiculous views and screaming fast fun single track. 

We also got to ride Hobbit trail on the east side, which basically felt like a fairy tale, green moss on the ground crowding a perfectly moist rooty strip of trail that wound its way through a tight forest of evergreen trees. I wanted to cry it was so perfect and beautiful.


The descent out of the first loop was crazy fast, full of rocks and roots and waterbars to jump, and while I was trying not to die I had a blast riding stupid fast, pushing the Edict to its limits. Oh and then we rode past Hunter S. Thompson's cabin... I didn't even know he was a real person until this weekend!

The lady taking this picture said I got the most air of anyone she had seen so far, hahaha
Photo: Liz Kreutz

The second half of the race was on the west side of the valley and started with Rim trail which contains even more stunning views, this time of fresh snow on rocky, scraggly peaks. The trail was smooth and ripping fast both up and down. Somehow the trail builders in Aspen know how to build climbs that feel like descents and I was so psyched on the way up that it was as much fun as the down!

Following Rim trail we got to ride all of Government trail, a technical traverse from Snowmass to Buttermilk ski areas. Government trail is like being punched in the face over and over because you think it's going to be all downhill and then you get smacked with ANOTHER technical climb, over and over, and just when you think you are loosing your mind it turns into a stupid fun and fast descent through Aspen trees on another perfect 6 inch wide strip of hero dirt littered with roots. The Edict LOVED every second of the descent (and the climb too, but oh man that descent). Again I wanted to cry it was so fun, and beautiful. Pushing that bike into the turns and floating over rocks and roots, dipping and weaving through the tight sections of trees, it was a mtb race dream. 

And honestly it feels like the whole thing WAS a dream because here I am, at the end of a Monday where I taught all day, hit Trader Joe's and came home to clean the kitchen for 2 hours (since I'm married to a 7 year old). Life. It's pretty crazy and rad, beautiful and brutal!

Time to go to bed so I can do it all again tomorrow. Thanks Pam and Nicola for making the weekend of my dreams happen! I wont forget this weekend for a long long time. 
#dreamteam but we are missing Rachel in this pic :(

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pulling the Plug and Other Random Thoughts on a Tuesday

Riding home today I could not get my HR to 130. Try as I might, it just wanted to hover between 116-120. So after twenty some minutes of trying to warm up, and 2 pathetic power intervals I texted coach to tell him, and got the reply that I should pull the plug and go home. While my immediate reaction was a feeling of relief, the second text that read 'and take a rest day tomorrow' immediately made me regret telling coach anything and filled me with a bit of despair (drama queen much?). 

Happy place for sure :)
During the 45 minute pedal home I reflected on this funny reaction. Leaving school I was not looking forward to the workout, to be completely honest I was feeling burnt out and just plain tired. But being told to drive to work flips a switch in me and makes me want to suffer (I even texted back begging to do the workout tomorrow instead of taking an off day). How weird is that? I know in my head that the rest will make me stronger, but oh it is so hard to get in the car and leave the bike at home! This probably sounds nutty to most people, but riding to work and back is my meditation. It's the hour in the morning when my mind can be blank and I can focus on the feeling of the cool air on my face and turning smooth circles with the pedals. It's the 1-3 hours in the afternoon when I can reflect on how the lessons went, take out any frustrations of the day on the pavement. I do my best thinking on the bike, and feel empowered by the ability to transport myself to work without a motor or gasoline. It's my happy place. 

But, despite my desperate desire to ride my bike to school tomorrow I will drive, like a regular, normal American adult, and I am sure I will live through the ordeal :)

And another point I've been pondering lately, I HATE admitting I'm tired, to a fault. It feels weak to need a day off, or to not feel great after a 5.5 hour ride in the mountains. So instead of acknowledging the stress put on my body from training full time and working a physically demanding job, and continuing to travel to races on the weekend I press on and tell myself and others that I am NOT TIRED! I push myself to do hours of yard work after 50 mile mtb rides and then wake up early the next day to go ride more. I pack in all the chores and errands after school to get stuff done, instead of sitting my butt down and letting my poor legs rest from riding and standing all day. So this it me, admitting to the world that it is ok to feel tired, and that it is ok to take an extra day off (I usually don't ride on Fridays already, so tomorrow is an EXTRA day off the bike). And that's where I am at the moment, a little burnt out, a little tired, and trying to use my brain and do the right thing by resting. Legs up, Chai tea in hand, on my butt for the next 2 hours. And it feels kinda good :)

Hope everyone has a chill week with some good 'feet up' moments!


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Real-ness

If you read this blog at all last year you know that there were some hard times in the Connors corner of the world. I am one to wear my heart on my sleeve and struggle to hide the illness, injury, sadness completely so despite smiling a lot, I hope it doesn't appear that I am unrealistically happy. It came to my attention recently (in the context of another athlete) that always seeming happy can look fake or robotic. And while I agree with the sentiment I think it's interesting this pressure we place on ourselves to project just the brightest, shiniest portions of our lives for social media consumption. And of course this goes both ways, as when we consume we are only seeing the brightest, shiniest parts of other's lives.
From that one time I got to race in Europe... Seems like a lifetime ago now. 
So, along those lines, I am having a day of struggles. I see all the posts about World Champs in Australia, all the smiling beach photos and gnarly course pre-view videos and I'm going to admit, I'm struggling with jealousy/regret/sorrow that I am not there. This season has been especially full of ups and downs but I did a pretty good job of isolating myself from the World Cup scene so that I wouldn't have to feel these feelings, but maybe hiding from it didn't really solve the problem, because here we are, September and I'm feeling the feelings I tried to avoid all year.
It's been especially hard going to work every day, knowing that I can't take days off to travel to races I want to do, which could numb my pain for missing Worlds.
But, in the last 30 years of my life I've learned that sometimes just accepting the sad feelings, letting them wash through you and then moving on is the best answer. So while I like the idea that Larissa is happy all the time, and always smiling, I'm taking a week to feel the feelings, be grateful for the good things and people in my life, and be human.
That is all.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Another Team Effort @ PCP2P

Being part of a community, or having a team makes this bike racing thing so much more fun, and I got to experience this again at the Park City Point to Point this past weekend.

Before I go into the nitty gritty details on the race, I have to say that I was pretty anxious about how this race weekend would play out. I taught my first full week of class for the year, left school and drove straight to the airport Friday, landed at 9:30, asleep by 11pm, and raced at 7am the following day. On paper it looked like a recipe for disaster. My legs were so swollen at the end of each school day that my skin literally hurt, and I thought I felt a sore throat coming on all week.

BUT I am pretty much the luckiest girl, and the Redel family swept in to pick up the pieces and help me out turning what could have been a very stressful weekend into quite possibly the most enjoyable race of my life. I own a lifetime debt of gratitude to Karl, Lori, Sienna and Mila for giving up their weekend to make my race go smoothly and for going WAY above and beyond as hosts and race crew.

The race itself was rad, like 100% pure mountain biking, the kind of ride we would plan out and execute on any given weekend, maximizing singletrack, elevation and views, pretty much everything I love about the sport.

We started with a fruit loop cannon (none landed in my mouth sadly) in a trail network called Round Valley, and twisted through some pretty fun smooth trails for 15 miles before the real suffering started on the way up to Deer Valley (I think). I got a bit of a gap in the first 5 miles, and then worked to extend my lead through the race, kinda scared the whole time that one of the other ladies would come up on me later in the day. I've decided my race tactic usually falls into the category of 'go out too hard, then panic all day that someone else paced themselves better and will catch me as I get tired'. Maybe I shouldn't be sharing this... but that's what I do!

The race started in waves, pro men then a 2 minute gap, pro women followed by a 2 minute gap... somewhere around mile 20 some dudes from the group behind me caught and passed me. I was stoked it took them so long to catch me (as I had been passing dudes from group one all during the Round Valley portion of the race). I rode with the dudes for a long time, keeping my power in check because Park City is at high enough elevation to do some damage if you go too hard. The trails were all super dry and loose, which reminded me of SoCal and I had a ton of fun sliding around and getting rad.


Photo: Angie Harker


As I had gone into the race pretty stressed from work and travel I didn't really do much research about the course profile, heck I didn't know it was 75 miles until two days before! As a result every climb was a mystery and the locations of aid stations vague in my mind. Around mile 33 I got a fresh bottle of GQ6 from Karl and was stoked to think we were almost halfway done. The next 30 miles is a blur in my mind or ridiculously fun singletrack and gorgeous Aspen and Fir lined climbs. John's trail stands out in my mind because it was so crazy rooty and fun. I LOVED twisting and weaving through the super tight Aspen trees, so narrow that I hit my bars over and over. The roots were gnarly and I had to concentrate to keep momentum up.

Following all that goodness was the 'hardest climb of the day' which I didn't realize I was on until after the race when someone asked me how I liked the Shadow Lake climb... I spent much of this part of the race thinking I had missed a turn, which distracted me from the climbing pain, and then before I knew it I was at the second important aid station at the base of the last sustained climb up Armstrong trail.

Somehow I missed Karl and Lori who were yelling my name (and who I was apparently looking right at) and I got the the end of the crowd wondering where they were. My stubborn side said 'keep going' so despite being almost out of water and GQ6 I pressed on, and was overcome with joy when Sienna rolled up next to me with a new bottle on her bike. The plan was for the girls to ride the remainder of the race with me, which I thought sounded super fun since Mila and Sienna don't mind me singing One Direction at the top of my lungs when we ride. Also they shred, and watching teenage girls rip down rad trails with Tahnee Seagrave like body english is pretty dang cool. Anyway, after chatting with the girls and doing a bit of singing (about ice cream) I may have been feeling good enough to turn the power back up to 11 and I accidentally rode away from them without taking new bottles!
Photo: @photojohnphoto from MTBracenews.com

Since I knew the last 5 miles were all down hill I just counted down miles to mile 70, not too worried about my increasing state of dehydration. There was one small aid station 'oasis' somewhere in there, and here I stopped to see if they knew what kind of a gap I had and to see if the girls would catch me. Somehow my tired brain didn't process the fact that I could have REFILLED MY BOTTLE so I rode off with no liquid to finish the never ending last 10 miles.

Somewhere in that last 15 mile portion of the race I distinctly remember flying down this one amazing tacky dark trail with all these little jumps that pushed me into the air. The feeling of floating was heaven after all the rough technical rooty stuff, and the forest was cool and dirt so perfect.

And then, after a series of psych out 'one more steep climb's I was finally on the last down hill. Following the theme of this race the last down hill was NOT easy. It involved many many tight switchbacks, causing the going to be slow, and lots of sharp rocks, threatening to give you a flat right when the finish is in sight. Needless to say I slowed down a little and choose my lines carefully, but the Kenda Saber Pros were studs and I didn't really need to worry.
Photo: @photojohnphoto 

And then almost as fast as 5am came the race was over and I was honestly a little butt hurt that I didn't get to ride another 25 miles (when you raise the ceiling and then keep it at 100 mile races it's hard to be satisfied with anything else) until I realized it took me just as long to do this race as Leadville Ha! Then the dehydration took over the euphoria of winning a bike race and I had to hang my head in the shade for a minute to collect my whits haha. This was followed by consuming all the dates I could get my hands on, my first experience with compression boots (holy hell, why didn't you people tell me how great these things are before?!?) and McDonald's ice cream thanks to Karl (see, going WAY above and beyond AGAIN!!!!)

And now it's 9:01pm, one minute past my bedtime. I have many more thoughts about this incredible race and how I just love Utah and all the things, but they will have to wait until another time. Until then, thanks for always reading the race recaps, and for cheering for me and saying all the nice things in the internet. I am so lucky to have so many friends and family and fans (that's weird to say that but I think by this point it's true :)




Friday, September 1, 2017

Ooofa

This has been the roughest return to work I have ever experienced. An amazing summer, a super quick trip to Tahoe (because I couldn't say no to Brendan after all the travel he has done for me) the weekend before the first day with students and starting will a full week of class all made for a painful week. Throw in 100 degree temps all week and Brendan being out of town for work... ooofa.

But when it's all said and done I very much enjoyed teaching those little fresh minds this week. The new freshmen are adorable, and quiet and so diligent with their work. I am trying to set a president of rigor and calm and discipline in my classes, but I can't help finding myself smiling at them, and getting giddy when I read their insightful responses to open ended questions about observing patterns in math. I am so excited with the possibilities we all face this school year, these fresh faces and me :)

So that explains why I have been off the backfoot with blogging lately. I get home every day after 6pm, have to force myself to do a chore or two, make and eat dinner and pass out by 9am. My legs are so swollen at the end of each day from standing/walking around my classroom that my skin feels stretched and painful. And then wake up at 5am to walk out the door to 85 degree heat BEFORE THE SUN IS UP and do it all over again... it gets easier, right?

And NOW I'm at the airport getting ready to board a plane to Salt Lake City to race my bike 75 miles. Something must be wrong with me. Thank God for the three day weekend.