Anna Milkowski’s 2004 Race Diary
Diary Entries – March 10, 2004 – The Adventure Begins
Seeing what I can do in cycling has been a long term goal of mine and this year seemed the one in which to try to make a leap. I’ve taken a break from teaching biology at The Putney School, traded cross-country skiing in Vermont for riding amid cacti in Arizona, and switched teams from Gearworks to Rona. I’ll be reporting on some of my adventures throughout the season here on the NEBRA website. This first entry will bring you up to speed if you don’t already know me. I expect future ones will be shorter.
In January, I flew to Phoenix for a two-week team training camp, one week off a rest break from cyclocross. Pacelining and five-hour rides were a shock to the system, and I was the weakest rider there. I struggled with pedaling efficiency and tried a new bike position almost daily. I knew I had needed that rest break, that I didn’t want to be going fast in January, and that the teammates against whom I was measuring myself were all excellent riders, but I didn’t like being the weak link. That aside, I was thrilled: training outside in January, amid saguaros no less, supported to the extent that my only role was pedaling, and training with the accomplished and inspiring athletes who were now my teammates! The learning process had begun: My teammates initiated me in reality TV, taught me the joy of eating dates on the bike, told of the virtues of flying with high pressure socks to avoid blood pooling in the feet, and introduced me to the laptop and email addiction endemic to traveling cyclists.
Returing from camp, I yelped at the air on my face as I stepped out of the airport terminal. That week, I stopped by to see an exhibit of my mom’s paintings, got an oil change, took care of a few home-care details, grabbed a select few file folders pertaining to things like bills, racing schedules, and tax 2003, and jumped into the car to drive back to Arizona. A book on tape, The Punch, carried me through Indiana, but through most of the drive I questioned my sanity in planning things this way. 2,500 miles is a long way, and driving cross country isn’t fun when your sole objective is getting somewhere. I barely rode my bike that week, but recovery was the main goal. I had picked up a cold at camp, so the extra rest probably helped.
Impetus to Relocate
In the past, I’ve raced regionally in the spring and done national level races during my summer vacation. This year, I’ll be racing big races in March. In the past, during big races I would conserve as much energy as possible and hope I had a little left over with which to do some actual racing. This year, I’ll be depended upon to attack, chase, and set tempo as my team aims to dictate the flow of and win these races. I need to be a whole lot fitter a whole lot sooner. I didn’t have confidence in my ability to do this using my usual winter strategy of skiing and riding the trainer a few times a week. I had already taken the drastic step of leaving my teaching job to pursue cycling – why not go all out and just skip winter?
Tucson is every bit the cliched cyclist mecca. Easterners come here in droves. I had been warned about the sprawl, the glass, the traffic, and the lack of roads, but lept at the chance to spend three months here, city unseen, splitting a condo apartment with a friend-of-a-friend cyclist. The presence of my oldest childhood friend, now an archaelogy professor at University of Arizona, promised me some grounding company and an escape from all-cycling-all-the-time, just in case I needed it. Tucson is dead flat featuring block after block of Circle Ks, Blockbusters, gas stations, and mini-malls, with scant few pedestrian areas, but over the last month I’ve gained some perspective. I am not here to critique urban planning, to review restaurants, to be a cycle tourist, to experience urban or museum culture, I am here to train. And for that, this place is utterly enabling. Rents are cheap; the weather is predictably excellent; streets are signed for bike lanes; roads offer every type of terrain including an 11-mile climb; training partners abound; and there are weekly group rides harder than most races. I often train alone, but it’s always supportive to exchange a wave with another cyclist, a reciprocal approval of what each other is doing. I am puzzled at why so many cyclists here don’t wear helmets, but that’s another topic.
Suddenly I am in a new culture in which cyclists have abundant time to train and no weather constraints. I went for a coffee ride one day with five others, spending 4:00 hours in bike clothes for a 2:00 ride. I am so used to micromanaging my time this time of year that I was just about jumping out of my skin with impatience. Cyclists here seem to ride a lot and talk of training in terms of weekly hours on the bike. Most cyclists from the Northeast I know talk in terms of workouts with specific purposes. With limited time, cyclists seem to value quality training over quantity, with unlimited time, they seem to value quantity and run the risk of getting sloppy about quality. For sure I am riding more than every before, enabled by the schedule, the weather, and my drastically-enhanced ability to recover, but my training is still the same interval-based program I have done for the last four years under the guidance of Tom Stevens.
This has been my lifestyle for the past month: wake up, read the paper on the web, drink coffee, eat oatmeal, send email, do a little paperwork, and head out training about 10:00. When I return, I shower, eat, stretch, nap/read/watch/surf the web/write postcards, eat, and sleep. Events include visiting with my archaeologist friend and her husband and grocery shopping. My roommate Lincoln Brown and I watch a lot of movies. I used to pack a whole lot into each day, sometimes feeling I led the ideal balanced existence, other times feeling I was constantly shortchanging everything, be it my training, my classes, my advisees, my dorm, my friends, or my family. Now each day has only one two-sided objective – training and recovery. Pursuing a passion so intensely is an unusual and indulgent opportunity. In the big picture of my life, this will just be one part. But for now, I focus on the cycling. I have invested a lot in the endeavor, as have countless others.
Cyclists are funny about food. Almost everyone believes that he or she knows what eating for optimal performance is, and almost everyone believes this to be a different thing. I have come to think it’s not the food that affects your performance but the belief that you are eating the top performance food. Some refrain from caffeine for triggering constant fight or flight, some welcome it as a fat-metabolizer. Some steer clear of all fat; some embrace plant and fish fats; some fear metals in fish fat; some eat whatever fat they want. Some claim to feel power from ingesting red meat, while others affirm other sources of protein and iron and don’t want anything to do with the karma of killing for food, with the hormones and antibiotics ubiquitous to factory farming, with dubious BSE screening, or with the environmental cost of beef production. Some veer towards Atkins; some stick with the classic high carb diet. Some aim for whole foods and meals based on Swiss chard; others seem to subsist on diet soda and gummy bears.
Questions abound: Does dairy cause congestion? Is it better to spend your money on organic produce or organic meats, shying away from either pesticides or toxins stored in fat? Is candy really good for you on the bike, because its high glycemic index sends glucose shooting straight to needy muscle cells, or is it just junk? One pro I rode with ate a cookie and a bag of salty peanuts during a five-hour ride. And what about all those powders? Is soy protein indigestible? What’s the role of the pineapple enzyme papain? Is 4 carb to 1 protein really the answer? During exercise or just after? All day for weight loss? And what about those whey protein powders with amino acids added in – is this the stuff that’s contaminated with androsteindione?
The humor in all this food musing is that as a regional racer, you’re in much more control of what and when you eat. Sure, once you’re Lance, you travel with a personal chef. But there’s a broad intermediate period, in which being a bike racer is like being a traveler. You carry personal staples and make oatmeal in the motel, but largely, you learn to make do. At a race in Canada last year featuring lots of athletes bound for Worlds, the pre-race buffet included creamy oatmeal, mayonnaise pasta salad, pure white toast, and eggs with Hollandaise. I don’t think anyone was any slower as a result. It seems like the trick is to plan ahead as well as possible to enable yourself to eat as you wish, but to be flexible and not fall into the trap of thinking a certain food will slow you down. In times of panic about race preparation, I call on the memory of one of my best races ever, a cold and rainy Keene road race that I raced on a dinner of Haagen-Daaz vanilla, four hours of sleep, and a two-hour early morning drive.
A New Team
On Rona, I am supported as never before: decked out in fancy Biemme clothing and baby blue Sidis, riding a beautiful Colnago with fast Bontrager wheels, sporting Rudy Project glasses (Pokemon glasses RIP), transported to and housed at races, warming up under a tent, paid a stipend, and having my bike maintained daily by an ever-supportive mechanic. Again, everything is in place for me to focus exclusively on pedaling. With all this support comes a lot of responsibilities and a call for flexibility: Helping Genevieve Jeanson win and make the Olympic team is a serious matter. The team exists only as long as the sponsors are happy. For the first time, there will be a lot of pressure on me to perform from sources besides myself. I hope that I can always view this pressure as on opportunity to improve and exceed what I thought possible, but I might not be able to. Some of the racing is bound to be flat out stressful. I will need to race well regardless of how I feel. I will get used riding under instruction from a voice in my ear. I will need to be very flexible about my own racing schedule, which can change at any moment. I will need to learn not to evaluate my performance based on my personal results. Racing for personal results will likely wait until cross season.
Racing so Far
In February, we raced at Valley of the Sun stage race near Phoenix. The courses were forgiving and provided a good opportunity to get used to riding with each other and communicating amongst ourselves and with the team director. My teammate Emilie Roy got run over by a car and emerged remarkably ok; you might have seen a photo of a folded Colnago on cyclingnews. Katrina Grove rode a great time trial, then delivered under pressure to win time bonuses, finishing second on GC; Katheryn Curi got third on a stage; and Andrea Hannos impressed me for her ability to always be at the front for the finish regardless of how hard she has worked previously. I launched a few attacks that didn’t do much, but my fitness had improved since camp, which was a relief. Most of all, it was exciting to be a team presence and to be contending for the lead in this souped-up regional race.
Last weekend Genevieve, Emilie, and I raced at the Tucson Bicycle Classic. Jolting my body out of an extreme rest week, I felt strong though ungraceful during the short time trial. Even if I had finished five minutes out of second, I would still feel in good company to share the podium with Genevieve and five-time Olympian Jeanie Longo! In the road race, Genevieve broke away and won by 10 minutes; Emilie rode a cagey race with a perfectly-timed attack to finish second and move into second overall. After dominating two stages, Genevieve didn’t start the third to prevent aggravating a small knee irritation. Emilie moved into the top position to win the overall. I ended up fifth. Racing with the legendary Longo is inspiring. She doesn’t have anything left to prove, and I get the sense she’s racing simply because she loves to. The weekend races started at 6:40am, and one of the highlights was riding over to the course at 5:15 through the empty streets of Tucson by moonlight between the two team cars.
The Real Racing Begins
Next week, I will be racing at Pamona, along with Emilie, Katheryn, Andrea, Erinne Willock, and Helen Kelley. Genevieve and Katrina will be resting for the higher-priority UCI race Redlands. Our other teammate Shani Bloch will remain at home in Israel. Pamona consists of a circuit race, an 8.5-mile uphill time trial, a road race, and a crit. Likely it will be very hot; the competition will be tough. Pamona runs Thursday through Sunday; Redlands Tuesday through Sunday. Even though my recent life hasn’t included much gallivanting, from here on out I am getting even more focused: high quality training with no junk riding, daily napping, stretching, leg-elevating, and perhaps using the pool as an ice bath, careful eating, minimal walking, and abundant sleep. Recovery is going to be essential for these next three weeks.
That’s all for now. Take care everyone.
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