Anna Milkowski’s 2004 Race Diary
Diary Entries – August 27, 2004
Placing Faith in a Break
The Break of All Breaks
After Fitchburg, sick with a cold as well as clearly not recovered, I took two weeks of rest, during which I went for two spins, two lily-dipping canoe paddles, and one leg-crippling run. I read a lot of books and basically forgot about being a bike racer. The experience was more disconcerting than vacation-like, but I didn’t really have a choice. I didn’t race for a month. Following Altoona from home was difficult, even while I knew that the best Rona roster was there, that I was in no condition to be racing, and that taking a break was the only way out of that hole. When teaching, I was aware of the way other components of my life got in the way of training and racing. When racing badly and taking this break, I acutely missed having other major pursuits and came to understand how they can support training and racing, particularly when things aren’t going well.
I came out of the break truly unfit. I can only guess that this had to do with what came before the break – a month or so of mediocre racing plus easy spins – something that’s more hanging on than actual training. But my condition was ridiculous. I was actually panting on the bike, and rides were only tolerable because my brother happens to be one of those rare people who just exudes joy when pedaling a bike at any speed.
I did some local races, mainly to touch base with the racing community I have come to like so much. I had to have a sense of humor. In New York City, racing downtown in a deluge, I simply couldn’t accelerate, either from a standstill or from speed, as though I were a car with only second and third gears. I thought midway that I was going to make it through the race and have a go at the sprint, but then I got gapped behind a crash (after crashing and subsequently improving my position in the field) and couldn’t close the gap. At Hilltowns, I knew better than to try to follow the surge at the bottom of the climb, went my own moderate pace and conservative effort, and came closer to making the split than I expected. I did a time trial and finished more than five minutes back of a personal best. I hadn’t just lost the top end; I’d lost my horsepower, which was a bit alarming.
Now that I can finally feel my fitness coming around, I’m growing fond of that awful break, holding hope that it will prove the key to longevity and strength in cross season. (I had to violate my personal rule of not thinking about cross until September this year.) All those essential ingredients for racing well that get depleted over the course of a season – from desire to race to enthusiasm for travel to physical tolerance of high-end exertion – I have stockpiled. Let’s hope this works!
The Training Program
Starting over with training means I get to do the training I most enjoy: rides emphasizing endurance and horsepower that aren’t structured to the point of prohibiting riding with others and that cater to my cycle-tourist mindset. Now that I’m not so terrible, training has become super fun. I’ve taken a varied approach.
A few weeks ago, I participated in the Greylock Century, organized by my first cycling club, the Berkshire Cycling Association. The ride climbs up the south (gradual) side of Greylock, then follows Route 2 to East Hawley Road (the Hilltowns climb), then returns to Pittsfield through the hilly terrain of Peru, Worthington, and Windsor. I rode the first part with the avid cyclist father of a childhood friend, the second part with two guys from Bennington whom I met en route, one a daredevil descender, the other a former racer turned painter and art handler. Centuries like this are picnics on wheels. Completing the ride so well hydrated and fed reminded me that much of what gets interpreted as fatigue in races is really just improper fueling.
A week later, I joined some AquaFina racers and company on an epic ride right in my backyard. (For route aficionados: Park at Jiminy, go north on Route 43, turn left on Route 2 West to Petersburg, NY, north on 22 to Hoosac, east on NY 7/ VT 9 through Bennington to Wilmington, south on Route 8 (past windmills) to North Adams, then up Furnace Street and up the north side of Greylock, then down the south side and northwest on Baily Road and back down to Jiminy.) In my shape, the north side of Greylock in the 23 is a definite horsepower building endeavor! It was so good I had to do it again a few days later. (This in spite of the descent, which involves riding down a road laced with foot-high pavement anthills, frost heaves bigger than any speed bump, huge potholes, slippery-when-wet sections of moss, and cravaces of caved-in pavement, through a corridor of tree cover that limits visibility) Those interested in an uphill suffer-fest might look into the Greylock Time Trial, held on October 3rd, in the event that they are not already slated to race cross that day on Long Island. (Check bikereg for details.)
Another component of training, besides push-lawn-mowing up inclines (surprisingly cross specific), has been dirt road rides. The intention is to get comfortable on the cross bike and continue to work on horsepower through punching it up the short steep climbs characteristic of the local roads. But there’s been another huge benefit: the most familiar of places is now grounds for epic exploration! This last week I’ve been lost twice less than fifteen miles from home, in one case discovering a section of pancake flat farmland with a gorgeous view of the Catskills. Yesterday I went on a four-hour adventure in which I followed a semi-familiar road as it turned to rubble, calling on anything resembling nimble mountain biker skill, then dismounted and climbed on foot the final shale cliffs to a local fire tower, then hiked the bike down a trail aptly named “Ledges,” then wended my way back home, lusting after farm-stand tomatoes for their water content, and stopping finally a mere five miles from home for water. Maybe this isn’t the most “pro” training, but it’s character-building and exciting. I’m a fan of the retired Norwegian cross-country ski racer Vegard Ulvang, who trained for world class competitions by ski touring across Greenland and tromping through the Scandinavian woods dragging a huge log from his waist.
I’ve pegged a pair of cross races on October 9th and 10th as the first races at which I really care about doing well, but I have some stops along the way. This weekend I’ll race at Chris Thater in Binghamton, a fun crit with a hill. After that, I’m off to Green Mountain. After years of racing the Goliath of the Rona team at that race, the year I join the team, I am the only Rona rider racing Green Mountain. Go figure. AquaFina will have ten racers! I likely won’t race in San Francisco, due to my own lack of planning initiative. This is a shame since San Francisco is the most exciting bike race I’ve ever done. Instead I’ll store away more travel energy for cyclocross, and compete in a new race in Cobbleskill, NY, less than an hour away. Then I race Univest, perhaps the World Championships of the Berkshires (the Josh Billings) or a mountain bike race, and then either a stage race in Bermuda or a pair of local cross races, before leaping headlong into cross.
Enjoy the last days and light of summer!
That’s all for now. Take care everyone.
photos by Jonathan McElvery, Jack Milton, and BikeReg.com
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