Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Eight Months of Cycling in One Blog

Racing a bike is really a long learning experience. After the second stage of USA Pro Challenge, I met one of the riders in my charge at the broom wagon, where she had ended her day. She stepped out, looked at me, and started to cry in frustration because she knew she was stronger than her performance on that afternoon. I told her that some lessons just hurt more when you learn them. At the end of every season, I do two things. First, I take inventory of what I learned in that stretch from February through September, where some things went really right, and some went really wrong. In every season, knowledge will be imparted in the hardest way possible, and it’s up to the rider to translate that into future races….which brings me to the second thing: I set goals for the year ahead. Then, I take a week off the bike, enjoy some early fall hikes in Colorado, pay no attention to my diet, and get ready to begin training once more. When that time comes, here will be my best takeaways from 2015:

REMEMBER TO RECOVER. I spent most of my 2014 season so exhausted that when I wasn’t pedaling, all I could do was drink espresso and watch test patterns on the television. It was a strange sort of pseudo-vampire lifestyle, where I learned that if I got up early enough in the morning to train, they played reruns of the Tonight Show and it still wasn’t funny. I also learned that failing to manage my energy levels will wreak havoc on my body, and leave me feeling mentally exhausted. I vowed to make a more conscious effort to structure my rest and recovery. Last year, before Gateway Cup, I called my husband and told him that I was completely over bike racing. This year, I’m actually disappointed that my fitness is well-dialed, and I can’t use it in just a handful more races to come. The lesson? Pushing boundaries is great. Pushing boundaries without a plan is a disaster. 

Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Feb.
WATCH AND LEARN. Some people find it tempting to grab an early dinner instead of sticking around and watching teammates race, or decide to chill in the hotel instead of standing in the hot sun to observe the turning of pedals. Not only is this kind of thing a forfeiture of obligations when you are part of a team, it really deprives the rider skipping out a valuable opportunity to learn. Sometimes, you can gain a lot from observing. Many of my teammates are stronger crit riders, and watching their lines and how they take corners, when they conserve energy and when they expend it, can be really valuable in setting me up for my own races. I learn something every time I watch them. Whether it’s choosing the fastest path to the finish or putting on a rain jacket mid-ride, finding a faster way to change a tube or adjust a cable, you can always learn skills from others.

WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. The culture of cycling is such that we have to depend on one another. I’ve been grateful more than once to get home safely from a precarious ride thanks to the efforts of friends. When you race for a team, you rely on others to help you win. A good teammate will block for you when you’re up the road instead of chasing and bringing along the field. (I can’t tell you how many times I have seen teammates sprint against one another. In truth, I think this should be cause for removal from a team.) They will position themselves to give the strongest rider the best chance at success. They don’t expect you to waste your efforts or sacrifice yourself when they know they cannot perform in a given race. But what those teammates do off the bike is no less important. The good teammates sit down with you and help you set goals. They cheer from the sidelines. They always have a positive word. They are the friendly, encouraging voices when you hit a rough patch in a race or on a ride. They are honest about your weaknesses, and they are willing to help you work on those things that need addressed in order to be successful. Good teammates respect your pre-race rituals, share their bananas, greet you post-crash with ice and Advil, and offer to look at your derailleur even when you tell them you think you have it fixed. They are open to feedback and learn from better, more experienced riders. After spending the last year racing with the best people I know, I make sure to give credit to those who really make a difference on race day and all the days in between, and I am always conscious of whether I am contributing positively or making things harder for my teammates.  That combined effort is probably the single most gratifying part of racing a bicycle.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE TEAM. The only reason we get to play at bike racing is because we have sponsors who give us the resources we need to be successful. It’s an amazing gift. These people are investing in us and our dreams. When I was working off the bike during USAPC, I realized how hard it can be to acquire good sponsors. Wearing logos while being a good ambassador in the sport of cycling and those shout-outs on social media allow sponsors to make the most of their support. I have a very real appreciation of those companies that invest in us, and it’s only right to represent them in the way they wish to be represented.

Saturday Night at Gateway Cup
THE ROAD AHEAD. I have been home from my last races of 2015 for less than a day, and I have already begun the process of setting specific goals for next year. I looked at what I did well, and where I needed to improve. Right now, I’m ranked third in the state in criterium. I’m happy with that. It’s my best crit ranking in a while. At the same time, I have a long way to go to be really successful in bigger, harder, faster crits. In the short term, I have some specific training goals to help me improve in areas where I lack skill, like cornering and sprinting. I am working on conserving more in races by staying in the saddle instead of wasting energy jumping out of every turn. I am trying to focus on reading the race and not fighting the rhythm of the field. I’m increasing the intensity of my intervals, and I have committed to one ride each week at race pace during my off season schedule. I have numbers, metrics and data markers that I want to hit as time progresses. And, of course, I am sharing those goals with the people who can help me get where I would most like to be in 2016.