February 2016

The elusive flow state.

Snowed under and suffocated. They are just a couple of words that spring to mind when I try to think of some descriptors of my recent working/riding life. Though not on a rotating shift roster at the moment, the stressors of working an essentially full time load at work, attempting to parent in addition to my multiple extra-curricular activities has meant that everything has been a stress.

Get up at 0400 to do some VO2 efforts in the bush (it may as well be midnight at that hour) and know that by the time you roll out you have exactly 82 minutes to get everything done, then get home, shower change and run into the car to get to work. If they’re lucky my family may even get a kiss goodbye. Finish work an hour (or two) late, get home, make dinner, husband has to go back to work (he too is swamped) so I bath and get child ready for bedtime, read a story and say goodnight. It’s 2045, and I crawl onto the windtrainer, off after nine to do some gym, shower and bed.

Is this what being a full-time working mum who moonlights as half a dozen other things has to be like?

I suppose it is, as without 0400 wake ups and late ergos I have two days at most when I can ride in a week. It’s a story I know many others would empathise with. I can’t complain about it; I just make it work. I have a great family and a job that only sometimes drives me mad; when I feel overwhelmed, grumpy or exasperated I think of my good friend Jayne who does the same but with three kids. Wow!

I am sorry I am a blob on the couch after my 0400 starts. I am sorry I don’t do the washing up. I am sorry I am not around to make you breakfast those days. I am sorry my brain is totally scattered after 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14 hours at work and I put the butter in the washing machine and the socks in the fridge. I am sorry I am grumpy and couldn’t come home earlier to help with dinner because someone called an ambulance due to their emergency constipation at ten minutes to knock off, and now I am home two hours late. My nose is stuffed up and I am probably stretching myself too thinly again, on the cusp of yet another full blown funk-face sinus infection.

I am sorry for the apologies and for the self pity: but being a dedicated part-time athlete is hard work. Sometimes, though, the stars align and instead of flogging my old body around I somehow get enough sleep, eat the right foods, haven’t encountered a profusely infectious patient in a while and have the time to go for a ride where everything is awesome.

Somehow, the flow state jut happens and I am just railing, not even thinking of where I am putting my bike, or worrying about putting in the effort, it just happens.

I can never pick it; usually the day after a race would be a definite grovel fest but today—somehow—it happened.

Music and exercise are two really important things in my life, though undoubtedly exercise takes precedence now, but occasionally when I am riding along Hans Solo in the bush, the long fireroad climbs are aided by an iPod. Warming up for races, music can get me in the mood. It’s a proven, legal, ergogenic aid. Sometimes songs I never would think would make me happy and flow-like on the bike just appear and are then evermore associated with railing bikes, the glorious hurt and all the other desirable reasons we ride bikes.

So, after all that, I leave you with my mix of glorious Flow tracks from todays endurance ride.


Hot Damn: For the love of quads

I was a runner once. Please don’t hurt me, jeer, or make jokes. I was a runner, and I ran a lot. 150km week, no worries. Of course it was incredibly bad for me as I would run through illness and injury, rain, hail or shine; if I had eaten that day or had starved myself; I just had to run.

One thing that no one would dare say back then is that I had good solid quads. Fast forward a few years, 8kg (!) and a deal of life experience and quads are certainly a defining feature of AB. In fact I reckon I pack a couple of kilos in each…

It’s took some time to be at ease with my body; reading others’ writing about their body epiphanies and coming of age tales has made me realise I am not alone when I say, hey, my body is pretty great. Yet far more often, I hear about lives filled with regret and body hatred. 30, 40, 50, 60 year old women are still plagued with an affliction I felt that I was, in some ways, fortunate to hit head on in my late teens: loathing themselves.

At a local fair recently I ran into a work acquaintance. It was hot. I was wearing bum-cheek exposing ridiculous short shorts because, hot diggity, I live in Brisbane and it was probably 40 degrees and 80% humidity and people were lucky I was wearing pants at all. She came up to me and said “Hey”, followed really quickly by “oh my god look at the size of your legs! You can’t tell in your uniform!”. While I was taken aback at this blatant commentary on my legs, I realised it probably said far more about her and her own concerns, than it was about me.

My quads are like steel. They schlepp me all around the place. I can ride for 5 or 6 hours, no worries. I can ride really freaking hard for 90mins. I can do sweet sprints and get to (almost) 65km/hr. I can ride up 20% + bergs. I touch my toes and my hamstrings pop out in thirds like a piece of meat at a butcher. I have a line up the sides of my legs as my quads pop out. Their size and form is a result of function, just as my then-50kg body was a result of epic miles on foot. Cycling is just a healthier way for me to keep fit and physically and mentally healthy.

Even if you’re not a cyclist or a runner, even if you do no sport. If you’re hating on yourself I would implore you to ask why. We are all products of environment and genetics. If your arms are large but they give good hugs then they are good arms. If your breasts are saggy but they fed children then they are good breasts. A good body doesn’t have to fit an ideal. A good body isn’t a Kardashian unless Instagram is really important to you. A good body is one that takes you places, that carries you through life, that forms relationships and has a purpose.

Be kind to yourself and your body, it’s the only one you’ve got.


Quad Love AB (middle): Sometimes quads get the top step. 

Coaches Corner: Beat the rat in the cage.

Anyone who has trained in any sport for long enough has probably experienced rat in the cage syndrome; just going out and riding/training/sportsting because you feel you have to, rather than you want to. It’s the sport equivalent of eating weet-bix with organic soy milk for everyday of your life; yes it’s probably good for you but goddamn it there’s no joy there.

Usually when I start to feel this way it’s because I am out of balance. Not in a chiropractic/reiki/chakra alternative-medicine kind of way, just in a fun:work ratio kind of way. It doesn’t even necessarily mean I am doing extra shifts or anything like that, it can just mean that work itself is so busy I can’t catch a breath, I have gotten up to ride at 0400 a few too many times in a week, or the housework has gotten on top of me. Riding is an ‘out’ but when you take your stress from your life on the road or trails then it can cease to be.

I find that my legs get heavy, I am super grumpy and my motivation gets low. Then I get sick, every time. I am sure other people can relate.

Two things I find that really helps is to change it up a bit, and to ride with some awesome people.

For example, I was accosted by a local roadie chick who is as gung-ho about developing women’s racing on the road as I am about the mountain bike, and somehow coerced to do some fun women’s road events at a local and state level. One thing lead to another and suddenly we have ‘fat arse Wednesday’ (ok, I named it…) sprint sessions with a group of cool groovers. Having not raced heaps of road, and never having tried to improve my particularly unimpressive sprint, this was totally new. And awesome! Wednesday is one of my favs. Sure, we average about 17km/hr but the skills and techniques with cool people make it a very worthwhile session.

Bridal ride; because why not? (image: Jahna Owen)

Riding with awesome people always helps; as I have said you can work the shittiest job in the world and be with good people and have a blast, and alternatively work the best job ever, work with dickheads and have a shit time. Bikes are the same, a good crew are worth their weight in gold. I have been super lucky to have some awesome training and riding buddies on the mountain bike, meaning that the 4hr rides seem like 2hrs (ok ok, before my 3-week hiatus getting sick!). Good people to have are good conversationalists, great to have a coffee with, and not dickheads.

Training buddies, racing buddies. (image: John Williams)

What doesn’t help me? Self-flagellation on the wind trainer, long days solo with crappy legs and continuing to get up at 0400 when I am flat out whacked. The hole I can dig is deep and difficult to climb out from. So if you’re feeling like the cardboard-like consistency of soggy weet-bix is a parallel to your riding and life, maybe try new things and hug good people, after all isn’t fun the reason we ride our bikes anyway?

I leave you with a music clip from one of my favourite bands (showing my age…)

But first, be human.

It’s funny how we spend years developing and discovering who we are. Often it starts early as toddlers declare with gusto ‘no!’ with repetitive monotony, which further solidifies in the early teenage years and the discovery that indeed, parents aren’t the boss of you (so i’ll sneak out and go to that party!).

I exist in many circles, all of which have some bearing on my identity and how I see myself in the world. There have been times when all I cared about is being fit and fast, however the wisdom of age and inevitable responsibilities of life that creep up on us all have meant my time is shared with other very important parts of my life that also inform who I am; time as a parent, time as a partner, time as an emergency service worker, time as a freelance writer and a coach.

The title of this post is a misnomer, firstly because it doesn’t state what type of human I am imploring one to be, and secondly, because to err is human so anything goes…right?

Well…not quite. I am speaking about ethics more broadly, and relating to bike racing in particular. The longer I work in emergency services, the greater the grey area becomes in what constitutes being ‘good’. Indeed, life isn’t easily compartmentalised into black and white binaries, which can be difficult for people to process. My job has taught me that all people are faulty, but that doesn’t mean they are bad…just ‘human’. In fact I can honestly say I think I have only met one truly ‘bad’ human, amongst many prisoners and others who would typically be put in the discard box.

I believe it’s important to emphasise to people within the mountain biking community in particular, and in broader society, that being a ‘good human’ is a valuable asset. The mountain biking community has grown from a small group of very inclusive dudes on klunkers to a slightly larger bunch of people of all shapes and sizes riding anything from $200 K-mart bikes to $13,000 halo bikes. With growth comes diversity, and that’s not a bad thing. What can be not-so-good is when riders in the community lose sight of the bigger picture, and the reason mountain bikes exist at all (mates fangin’ around in the bush).

We have a wicked race scene up here in Queensland that, quite frankly, puts the National Series to shame with its accessibility, inclusiveness and participation. The problem both at local and larger events, emerges when we become so wrapped up in reinforcing parts of our identity that we feel are important to us “must race bikes, must not stop, must win bike race” at the expense of acting like a good human. Does anyone really care that you came 5th in B-grade in a local club race, except maybe your mum? (even then she may well be feigning interest).

If you pass a small child who has crashed and is crying in the bushes during a bike race, I know as well as anyone that you’re riding at threshold, your respiratory rate is 30+, and capacity for decision making is small. Do you stop? Ask if they’re ok? Keep riding?

What if you’re racing a local criterium and hear the snap, crackle and pop of carbon frames everywhere happen beside you?

In the end, we’re all just faulty humans living in the grey-zone, but I implore riders to think back to the camaraderie, good-will and spirit of the sport which is the reason many of us were drawn to mountain biking anyway, and make a choice to be the best human they can be. Because when it comes down to it, our identity is built upon our very earliest teachings of ethics (don’t steal, be polite, do unto others etc), and without that, does the other stuff really matter?

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