Monday, October 31, 2016

Down the Drain

"You can never go down the drain." - Mr. Rogers

After my last post I realized that what I was feeling after the last couple of ‘cross weekends was nothing new, it was just my own version of Seasonal Affective Disorder kicking in a bit earlier than normal. In the same vein of being able to see my cycling ups and downs for what they are, I can look back across my career and see that pretty much every fall I hit a point where the remaining promise of what the calendar year could bring seems pretty low, and I’m just ready to move on. While it’s quite possible that it is actual SAD coming into play, I don’t quite fit the typical description in that I usually bounce back in January and February when other people are complaining about the terrible winter weather, and the SAD should be the worst. It’s not that I like winter weather, but’s it the time when everything still seems possible and there’s plenty of motivation put in the work that will hopefully make the following November a little less SAD.

Back in the summer, our team put on a cyclocross clinic where Arley Kemmerer gave the analogy of the big training build-up prior to the ‘cross season and subsequent backing off once racing begins as “draining the bathtub”. It feels like most years I never quite get my bathtub full enough and I’m left wet, naked, and shivering for the last 6-8 weeks of year until January gives me the opportunity to dry out and start filling the tub again. Looking back, I’m pretty sure my tub was already empty for the year as I sat and listened to her on July 30, but I just wasn’t ready to admit that yet.

This weekend I completed the MASS enduro series at the Raven Enduro just outside of State College. Even though the race is nearby, I had never ridden most of the trails for it until September. I had hoped to jam in enough practice sessions to gain some sort of home course advantage and actually do well after really struggling on unfamiliar enduro courses early in the season. I guess the Raven course just didn’t suit me, or I didn’t have enough time to learn the subtleties of the many unfamiliar rock gardens around the course. This lead to a very disappointing finish, despite my becoming the “series champion” based various technicalities including the fact that I paid $20 to be scored for the series when quite a few faster girls in my category did not.

I had typed up a much lengthier race report that detailed how things came apart, but it doesn’t really matter. I have already come to the logical conclusion that I always reach in these situations, which is that I have the choice to quit racing bikes or keep working to get better, as slow and frustrating as the progress is relative to that of other people sometimes. I think we all know by now that I never to end up choosing quit, at least not permanently. It’s going to take a while for my emotional self to catch up to that conclusion, though, so I still might have a few weeks of chilly bathtub moments ahead.

I guess the benefit to recognizing your old patterns from the past is that it gives you the opportunity to change them, although I’m not quite sure how yet. I guess for starters, can somebody hand me a towel?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

This Love

This love is good, this love is bad
This love is alive, back from the dead
These hands had to let it go free
And this love came back to me

These words rang in my head during the Emmaus Cyclocross Festival race on Saturday, and not because I was feeling a lot of love at the time. It was actually because I was sort of hating cyclocross at the time, and the words reminded me that it’s okay to sort of hate cyclocross sometimes. Eleven years of racing gives one a lot of perspective on the up and down phases of vastly different seasons over many different years, and I can now recognize that love for different disciplines comes and goes based on the circumstances around them at the time.

Sometimes you have to let a discipline go for a bit and let the love come back on its own. Remember, "XC sucks"? Well, I guess still haven't started racing XC again since 2012, but I'm, you know, willing to give it another chance after all this time.

After a mediocre debut ‘cross weekend at Town Hall/Quaker City, I proceeded to have a rough weekend at Charm City. I did quite badly in my races, with my Saturday power being so low I didn’t even want to finish the race because I could barely propel my bike around the difficult course, much less race other people around it. For various reasons, known and unknown, I was absolutely exhausted the whole weekend and participated in more car napping than heckling fun times, and the snacks tent blew away to add insult to injury. My teammates all did awesome, with Elisabeth and Taylor holding off Katie Compton’s lapping advances in their UCI C1 debut, and Taryn and Emma both making podium appearances in stacked 3/4 fields. While I am happy to see them all doing so well, “the view from the cheap seats” has been feeling a bit lonely this season.

I’d hoped that a smaller field at Emmaus might help me turn things around and get my confidence back. I got a pretty good start and was in fourth place when I slid out on some wet grass in the second corner. The disconcerting part was that I felt more relief than frustration when it happened. Like, “Well, I have an excuse to be in last place now…” That can’t be a good sign. I went on to make up a couple of places, only to lose them back and crash again when I thought, “Ooh, at least I don’t have anyone in front of me, Imma go through this section no brakes. Oh wait, I don’t actually know where the ‘no brakes’ line is…bump, bump, brake, crash.” I’m almost certain that I had never crashed twice in a single race prior to that.

The most satisfying racing that I’ve done in the last two weeks, was trying to pick off the Masters 4/5 men later in the day in Emmaus when the option of a “FatCX” race placed me behind them in the final race of the afternoon. Chasing down old men who have a head start while on a fat bike seems to be way more motivating than chasing down Cat 4 women while riding a normal ‘cross bike.


I started this post a couple of days ago, but I didn’t post it because I couldn’t seem to wrap it up with the nice, philosophical conclusion that I always try to do. I think the challenge is that it’s really not that complicated. I made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t looking forward to this ‘cross season, but decided to give it a go, anyway. I gave it a shot, hoping that the social aspect would outweigh the other challenges, or that I might end up with magically better legs that I was expecting. Neither of those things happened, and I’m ready to move on and hope that the elusive “science, magic, and you” that make up a great ‘cross season come together in 2017.

Until then, I want to get back to spending as much quality time as I can with my main (bike) squeeze, Tormund Giantsbane, before the weather gives out on us. I even booked us a romantic getaway in Virginia in a couple of weeks, where I’m hoping that Harlan Price will help “Imma go through this section no brakes” become a more successful venture for me in the future. Sadly, it’s ladies only, so I’m bummed that I have to leave my main human squeeze at home, but maybe it will give him a chance to sneak away and race some ‘cross without me, as he’s been having a better season than I have.