In years prior, I have been at least somewhat active updating this blog, but not this year. Why the silence? I have been working. More on that later.
First of all, I am writing this blog on the flight home from 2016 U.S. Cyclocross Nationals, where I won the 35-39 Masters title…so you know this story has a happy ending.
Let’s start by talking about the spring and summer. It was the happiest I have ever been.
I trained harder than ever before. With more than 15 years of uninterrupted, increasing training volume behind me, it’s now difficult to overload my body. The formula for athletic improvement is simple: stress followed by rest equals adaptation. With three years of training data to support us, Larry and I pushed the envelope and ramped things up. It was a risk, but a worthwhile one. In the beginning, it seemed so hard that I thought Larry had lost his mind (or made a grievous mathematical error). Yet, as weeks went by, I adapted. I lost a little weight, got stronger, and could handle more and more load.
Even without the “happy ending,” I would not have regretted the training. One of my deepest regrets is never having reached my potential as a skier. Circumstances forced me to walk away from skiing before I was ready. I didn’t know how much faster I could have been, but I felt I hadn’t tapped my limit.
I loved this summer because it brought me so close to the edge.
There’s a pretty special synergy between Larry and me, and this summer developed that still more. I wanted to be pushed…asked for it. Larry is the most intense person I know; he never tires and never ever backs down. He put a lot of time in me, and I thrived under his belief in me. There were many workouts and training blocks that I thought I couldn’t handle, but then I did, and that feeling was addictive.
Major changes have been occurring at my work place for some time now. Starting in the spring, my workload and responsibilities began to snowball. (This is not a new job. I’m nearing ten years with the company.) By mid-summer, I was starting to bring a lot of work home on the evenings and weekends.
Let’s add some context. I am 38-years old. I did a summer of ass-kicking training. Clearly, this was one last attempt to make breakthrough. I had zero illusions of becoming a pro, but I dreamed of consistent top-15 to top-20 UCI C1`results. In early October, I was in great shape and feeling confident.
Then my already poor work-life balance swung totally out of whack. A coworker quit as our team’s workload steadily increased. Beginning in October, my life became nearly 100% work whenever I was not asleep or on my bike. On race trips, Michael would drive the car, and I would work. On weekends, I would work mornings and race in the afternoons. This was intense and stressful work and my body starting showing subtle signs of stress (eczema and vertigo).
I believe one has a limited pool of motivation and emotional energy. I was giving it my all at work every day, and by the time I got on the bike, I was sapped. My results weren’t awful, but good races were fewer and further between. I felt like I had lost my edge…like I couldn’t get out of my own way.
I was pissed, frustrated…and tired.
In the meantime, things have changed in CX. At my first UCI race, the 2007 USGP Planet Bike Cup in Madison, I earned UCI points with little effort. In those days, UCI points were relatively easy to come by, and could be earned in quantity at unpopular C2 races. Those days are long gone.
To have a chance at racing well, you must first…race well. By this I mean, to be competitive, you need UCI points, and more than a couple. While there are still folks who believe in the power of “one UCI point,” a single point has limited value. At a C1, one UCI point is good for maybe 4th row. Once the race starts, to move from fourth row (top-32) to first row (top-8), you must ride faster than 24 riders, while navigating traffic. Swimming upstream.
I’m not complaining. Ultimately, the situation I’m describing is a result of the growth and development of women’s CX in the US and the World, which is good.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, when I was a ski racer, my coach Ahvo told me about “the conversation.” That’s when the coach tells that athlete that she’s not going to “make it” and it’s time to move on. At the time, I was horrified. How dare a coach say “never?” With the benefit of 10 more years maturation, I no longer feel that way.
Well, Larry had something like “the conversation” with me. He helped to see the increased depth of the women’s field and guided me towards Master’s racing. He suggested some goals that captured my interest. In light of this, I made the easy decision to race Masters at Nationals.
A skilled coach knows “when to say when” and how to shift the athlete toward a meaningful and realistic goal. Since that conversation is not fun, it takes integrity.
For a day or two, this conversation put me in a VERY bad mood; but, ultimately, it was freeing.
Until that moment, it felt like my season was slipping away. I had an off weekend at State. I was sick for Jingle Cross. I had one great race in Texas, but three poor ones.
The Texas trip was particularly disappointing. Because of small and relatively weak fields, the races were opportunities for better than normal results. There were “reasons” for each of my poor races, but, bottom line, I did not perform on the day that it counted. I knew it, and Larry knew it.
There won’t be many more, if any, opportunities like this one in your career.
It was clear to me. I couldn’t keep saying, “Oh well, next time.” At a certain point, there would be no “next time.” I could seize the day, or live with the fact that I hadn’t.
There was a sea change in my emotional state between Texas and Nationals.
First of all, I had the good fortune of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays away from the office. I hadn’t had a weekend off from racing since September. Four days away from the office without any racing meant I got some sleep, had a couple of precious of moments to unwind, and could fully commit to my training.
Secondly, because of the “conversation,” and the dope slap that was Texas, I decided to change my outlook. I went to Tennessee for the final UCI race of the US season determined to enjoy every moment.
It’s not going to last forever, I better savor it.
At the same time, I let go of expectations. Yes, I wanted a UCI point in Tennessee, but instead I focused on my race plan. Execute the plan and results will follow. As a result, I was on fire. My legs felt truly crappy, but my mind was fresh, and I was having a blast. I finished 11th (one place away from the final UCI point), but I was satisfied with my best USAC points result ever.
It takes a village?
A significant part of my Nationals success came from my team. After a weekend of hanging mostly by myself in TN, I was nothing short of delighted when the PowerFix van rolled into Asheville. With my coach on hand, and teammates whom I really enjoy, it was easy to race well. Our team has been in place for a couple of years, and at this point, we’ve spent a lot of time together. The good times we have in the evenings keep the nerves in check and things in perspective.
It’s telling that some of my best and strongest memories from last Thursday are not of winning, but spending the afternoon and evening as a team. Winning is great, but the high only lasts a couple of hours, and then there’s a feeling of, “Now what?” (Sadly, the feeling after a crummy race lasts much, much longer.)
After racing, our team took a tour of the Biltmore Estate. Under bright, warm sun, still riding the high and fatigue of our good results, we toured this crazy huge, ornate, Gilded Age mansion together. Afterwards, we uncorked some champagne (well, I did with a lot of assistance from my teammates), ate cookies, and then went out to dinner. Fun is fast.
Where am I now? Heck if I know.
Winning a 2nd Nationals in 35-39 was a significant achievement. Frankly, I’m coming close to meeting all my goals…..
Am I stepping away from UCI racing? No.
However, going forward, I will take myself less seriously. I hope “opportunity days,” like Texas, will come my way again, and this time I will seize them. I don’t think I will feel the same crushing pressure to succeed.
As far as the immediate future, I am back at work. Michael and I travel to Belgium in February for a two-week UCI racing trip. At the moment, I am enjoying some well-earned rest before getting back into training for Belgium.
Lastly, a huge THANKS and I love you to Michael for being my support through ALL of the above. He never complained about crazy long workouts at questionable hours (as long as he did not have to ride), did more cooking (and even grocery shopping) when things got crazy, and became a great official!