Monday, March 31, 2014

Week #65: Last Lap

Much of last week was dedicated to celebrating my departure from Indiana with various meals with friends, capped off with a little Speedway Wheel(wo)men gathering where we ate a bunch of especially tasty Mexican food and topped it off with a bottle of "Kristal" at Kristen's house. Although I don't get to see these girls as much as I would like, even living in Indiana, it's sad to think of major life events not involving miscellaneous sparking wine and Sharpies.

It's not a a Speedway Wheel(wo)men gathering without "Kristal".
I also got one last ride at BCSP on the Karate Monkey yesterday, which I had desperately wanted, as I don't imagine that the rigid singlespeed will get much play with all the climbing and rocks in Pennsylvania. Of course, it wasn't the magical experience that was my first ride on it last year. I guess the first time on singletrack every year is tough, so it probably shouldn't be exacerbated by doing it on a rigid singlespeed. Plus, I am really, really out of shape. I can't actually tell you the last time I felt good riding a bike.

It's funny thinking back to a year ago when I was in the best shape of my life only to watch it slowly start to disintegrate as I fought through my move, divorce, etc. All my early post-move posts were all focused on my battle to return to "normal" as quickly as possible. Then Frank showed up before I really got to normal, and it became apparent that normal was never going to happen until we lived in the same town. So a year passed, I did my best to mitigate the damage to my declining fitness, and now it seems that I am finally on the brink of the new and improved normal that I set out to achieve.

I recently read the book "The Happiness Advantage" because someone suggested it based on much of the self-guided problem-solving that I've been doing. It was ironic that it finally became available at the library during the horribly stressful period of unrest that has been the last six weeks, where my desire to cultivate a better attitude and relationships at work quickly dropped off. I do think the information will be quite useful for a fresh start at my new job, where my goal for the time that I'm there really is to learn to enjoy it as much as possible and form good relationships, so that hopefully I can expect nothing but support and well-wishes during the next job search when I'll have to leave to follow Frank on the next step of his career.

Anyway, job stuffs aside, there are a couple of points in the book at are immediately relevant to my current situation. The first is finding the meaning in stress so that it is enhancing to meeting your goals rather than just stressful, and the second is that to see setbacks as temporary and within your control to fix, rather than permanent and out of your control. These are interesting because the more positive mode is where I fell naturally when I was going through my move and divorce: adrenaline, keep fighting even though you're tired, get up when you're knocked down, fight, fight, fight, because I was convinced that the finish line was near. Now I'm getting a little bit of fighter mode kicking in, but mostly I'm just tired and over it, because after a year, I'm no longer so convinced that things are temporary and under my control as I was year ago. After so many times of thinking that I was almost to the finish line and speeding up, I don't fully believe that the finish line exists.

On the last lap of a 'cross race I always find myself checking off each obstacle or hard section and telling myself it is the last time through. A little mental celebration every two minutes or so makes the pain more manageable. So here are the things that I currently see as the hard sections standing between myself and the finish line that I'm trying to reach:
1) Collect the rent check of my subletter, which I was supposed to receive last week.
2) Continue to attend work for the rest of the week when I don't want to.
3) Continue to work out for the rest of the week when I don't want to.
4) Continue to cook and eat normal meals for myself the rest of the week even though it'd be easier to live souly on bananas and almond butter.
5) Final pre-move haircut and dentist appointment.
6) Drive me and the kitties to Pennsylvania on Saturday.
7) Three weeks of settling in stuff, starting new job, and living as a squatter while I do my best to establish as much of a routine as I can and start rebuilding my fitness.
8) Once I'm *almost* in a routine, go to a work conference in Orlando from Sunday-Thursday.
9) Two days after that, drive to Indiana on Saturday, load my stuff, and drive back to Pennsylvania and put it in the new apartment.
10) Go to work exhausted on Monday morning and drag myself through the workweek after hella busy week before with no time to recover.
11) Try to get new apartment in order during the evening after tired-ass work and training all day. Honestly, I'm really going to rely on boyfriend support through this section.
12) Make it the next Friday night, sleep a whole a freakin' bunch, and wake up at approximately 9 a.m. on Saturday May 10.

So right now, I believe that Saturday, May 10 at approximately 9 a.m. I will reach the finish line to which I've been racing since I told Adam that I wanted to move out. The problem is that the finish line has moved so many times since then that I'm not fully convinced that it will stay there. Otherwise, I could totally turn on my positive genius and power through that list, which for those of you that haven't counted, covers the next 40 days of my life. I can handle 40 more days after a year of this, right? Now I just have to make myself believe that's really all there is to it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Week #64: Barry-Roubaix

I totally failed on getting any pictures of Frank's and my trip to Barry-Roubaix. It was just so freaking cold, I never wanted to take my gloves off for pictures. At one point I joked about taking a "post-winter dirty-snow hellscape selfie", due to the giant piles of dirty snow that still lingered everywhere, but we didn't. In the end, this year's Barry-Roubaix was completely different and yet very much the same as last year.

Much like last year, I really only signed up to hang out with friends and as something to do with my post-Death March fitness (which this year turned out to be not very much). Also much like last year, when I signed up I had a vague idea that a major life shake-up was coming, but had no idea it would come more quickly than imagined and coincide with the race such that the last thing I wanted to do was drive to Michigan and ride bikes in the cold with so much worry on my mind. So once again I went even though I didn't really want to at the time, and after it was over, was glad I did.

The morning started off badly with a mad scramble to get there in time to pick up our numbers, although once that happened, we had an hour and a half to wait around until the start. During this time, I discovered that I hadn't brought a sports bra, which occasionally happens when I'm packing in an unenthused state, due to the fact that my sports bras live in a different drawer than the rest of my cycling clothing. Then I dropped my sunglasses in the toilet when I went for my final pre-race bathroom stop. The saving grace of this was that we were parked at the public library, so I was using a relatively clean indoor toilet compared those closer to the starting line. By the time I was ousted from the warm car for a brief orientation ride around the start area that quickly ended with me camping out in a warm coffee shop until five minutes before the start, I had managed to shed a few tears about how badly I didn't want to be there.

Luckily Frank handled it with his usual calm and grace and got me to the starting line on time. For a few miles I was stuck in the feeling of not wanting to be there, which was then compounded by beating myself up for both letting the bad attitude slip in and moreover letting it spill out and become visible to others. My turning point came to when I told Frank that I wanted to just do the 36 mile route, even though we were signed up for the 62. At the time we were DFL in the wave, which was the last of the day, and we were on pace for over 5.5 hours of lonely, cold riding. We eventually caught and passed a couple of 62-mile riders, but once our ride was cut down to what equated to a good workout at my current fitness level instead of an all-day torture session, I felt much better about things. I did struggle with a few more miles of worrying that Frank would be disappointed in me for not doing to whole thing, but I knew that any disappointment he felt would be tempered with relief for not having to ride that long, either.

By the end we were happy and chatty again, and we finished in time eat with my friend Isabel and her family. I think my real problem was mostly just not wanting to spend all day on the bike and finish too late to see or talk to anyone after, so once things were more manageable, I was happier. I know that I *can* ride 62 miles, but there simply was no benefit in it for me that day.

So now we are back in Bloomington with less than two weeks until my departure for Pennsylvania. We have our own house lined up for May 1, so the actual furniture move is still six weeks out. I have a subletter lined up for June and July, so at least I get a couple months' relief from double rent. Now I'm just going through all of my mental checklists about what needs to be packed up when, what needs to make it in into the car for the first trip to PA in April, what sources of income will be received when and into which bank account they should go, etc. It's still pretty exhausting, but we're getting closer to settled every day. I can't wait to get there and get started working at my new job, riding the Rothrock gnar, and just living everyday life with Frank instead of driving back and forth all of the time.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Week #63: Unplanned Rest for the Weary

Frank and I ended up getting 4th place in the co-ed division in the Death March, so it turned out much better than we expected. Of course, it mostly just left us playing "what if" regarding the 20 minutes separating us from the podium. Our navigation was flawless, but there was leisurely cookie consumption by both of us at different points after Combs Rd. when we just wanted to make it back alive. We probably would have summoned a lot more old lady/man strength had we known we were in contention rather than just survival mode, but as there were at least four teams ahead of us going our direction, plus Scott and Janelle taking a different route and blowing everyone out of the water. However, when the checkpoints were tallied, we came out ahead of a couple of teams that finished before us. Oh well, there was no symbolic beer on the line this year, anyway.

The past week was mostly spent trying to recover from the combined stress of my job search, the resulting cold, and doing the Death March while in terrible shape and still a little sick. I was pretty trashed all week and ended up calling in sick on Friday when I spent most of the night awake with the weird inexplicable stomach pains that I get a few times a year but can't link to any particular food. At least the much-needed day of doing practically nothing except napping started me on the path to feeling normal again.

On Saturday, we were able to get out for a 30 mile mixed-surface ride, which after the week I'd had, felt almost as hard as the Death March did. It was a little demoralizing, but I knew that it was important to get back on the horse, er bike. I rested more on Sunday, and now I'm hoping to get back into a semi-normal schedule leading into Barry-Roubaix.

Otherwise, the big challenge of the week is resolving our housing situation. The current plan is to try and find a place that we can go ahead and move into May 1 and keep through at least August 2015, while Frank's roommate and his girlfriend will live in Frank's current place until their lease is up in August. This plan also includes me and the kitties basically being squatters at Frank's house for the month of April and then coming back to actually move my stuff at the beginning of May. It's not an ideal situation, but it will be nice knowing that we'll be settled in a place of our own for the summer. Also, I'm still looking for a subletter to relieve some of the financial burden of all these moves, so pass this along to anyone who might be interested:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Week #62: Death March and New Life

I'm not really sure what to say about this year's Death March, except that we were really ill-prepared and it was really hard. Of course, I knew that going in, and there was really very little I could do, especially when I ended up spending most of the last week and half before the race with a nasty cold. So we just rode the best we could, and stuck with the minimalist approach, which meant no Callahan, Gorbits, Hawkins, or Gil Gal. Anything that we got beyond the required checkpoints was either directly on the way or required less than a mile of detour.

Still early, still smiling.
Somehow after two fewer total miles and six fewer miles of singletrack, we still managed to finish an hour slower than last year. I know that conditions were worse this year, but it was still disappointing. I'm not sure how we finished, because we didn't stay around for results. I would still guess top third or so in the co-ed division, but who knows.  Along the way, Frank asked if this was my third Death March, and I said yes, it was my third start, although my first attempt didn't go so well. I said I'd had one very bad one and one very good one, so I guess I was due for a medium one. We did okay, and it wasn't any more painful than one would expect under those conditions.

I had to mock Frank just a tiny bit.
Now for the good news. Although our Death March campaign didn't turn out the way we'd hoped at the beginning of the winter, admittedly not much did. However, it all seems to have worked out, as this morning I accepted a new job at Penn State that included a hefty raise. I'll be moving to State College on April 6 and starting my new job on April 14. We still have some housing issues to work out, as I try to figure out what to do about my lease in Bloomington from April-August and we decide whether we want to cave to the demands the 21-year-old aspiring slumlord that recently purchased the house where Frank has lived for three years or look for a new place for August. So there are still a few things to work out, and moving is always a pain in the butt, but we finally get to be together full-time without too much financial distress, so yay for that!

Our best #scenicvistaselfie yet.
It's going to be an interesting season to say the least. We're signed up for Barry-Roubaix in a couple of weeks, which will be my last race before I move. Then my goals are mostly centered around me vs. Rothrock for the summer, but as a test of that, I will probably race either the Rothrock TrailMix or Stoopid 50, depending on my fitness and skills in mid-June. Otherwise, I just want to ride bikes with Frank.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Week #61: Poised

I said remember this feeling
I passed the pictures around
Of all the years that we stood there
On the side-lines wishing for right now
We are the Kings and the Queens
You traded your baseball cap for a crown
When they gave us our trophies
And we held them up for our town
And the cynics were outraged
Screaming "this is absurd"
Cause for a moment a band of thieves
In ripped up jeans got to rule the world

Erik did, in fact, get a crown tattoo two days later to commemorate his OVCX "Cat 4 King" status.

The picture above represents three things to me: 1) One of my greatest triumphs 2) One of the last happy moments with my once best friend 3) The moment when my real life began.

At the beginning of the 2012 cyclocross season, I was lost. Since my Cat 4 championship the year before, I had been continually beaten down by a project at work and had succumbed to the stress. I came into the season not at all prepared for my ascent into the elite wave. I was going through a very bad period of depression and didn't know where I belonged anymore. As depression has a way of doing, I had become convinced that no one cared about me and that even my supposed friends wouldn't like me if they actually knew the real me. Erik was new to the scene, and he had weird way of treating me like we were already friends as soon as we met. It wasn't the polite way you treat someone that you meet and *want* to be friends with; it was a disconcerting step over that to a relaxed rapport that I just don't have with strangers. Strangely, the polite stage was what had been keeping me at arm's length from people, so being thrown into automatic friend stage was a wake-up call.

Although looking back I think it was just a quirk of his personality, that everyone he meets is automatically his best friend during the time they spend together, it was the wake-up call that changed everything for me. To be reminded of what actual human connection feels like when you've built up walls so thick and so high for your whole adult life is crazy. That is when I started pursuing a life in which that feeling was the rule rather than the exception. As my journey progressed, the rough road ahead became clear and I knew that the person who started me down that road might not make it to the end with me. So last year's Death March was very intentionally a practice run crushing the gravel of life and the chance to seal one last happy memory the person who had inspired it.

After it was over, I knew it was time to quit pretending and move on to building the life I wanted. Unfortunately, I was correct in my fears of losing my friend, but I understand why it had to be that way. Otherwise I probably would have never known how to really depend on myself and the others that have since become my circle of support. I had to give up things that were standing in the way of something better.

Now just days before another Death March, I once again sit poised for everything for which I've been striving to come together, wondering if I will truly be so lucky as to pull it off. Part of me wishes that included success at the race, but if Frank and I end up holding six-packs of Hopslam and grinning for the camera, it will be purely due to luck and/or remnants of the work I put in last year. Really, I'm just hoping that I'll even be able to concentrate on the race at all, as the prize on which my eyes currently rest is greater than symbolic beer and may or may not be in my hands by Saturday.

I'm not going to deny that I'm disappointed in myself for not being able to pull off a successful Death March campaign and major life overhaul all at once. I'm well aware that there is more to life than bike racing, so there's no need to remind me, but I'm sort of ready for this cycling blog to become a cycling blog again, and frankly, I like the taste of symbolic beer. As much as I'll mourn the loss of BCSP as my home trail, part of me does relish the challenge of making friends with the Rothrock rocks once I'm moved to Pennsylvania and to have the biggest obstacles in my life be made of granite. I'm crossing my fingers that those days come sooner rather than later.