In mid-winter I started going to one of the local yoga studios as part of our winter trainer nights that were followed by warm, slow flow yoga. I’ve been doing yoga at home on and off for the last couple of years but this was my first foray into yoga beyond YouTube. It was a great introduction to yoga in a dedicated setting, with hands on instructors, and slowly getting used to warm and hot yoga classes. After the trainer night/yoga series ended I continued to occasionally go, enjoying how my practice was becoming smoother, my focus a little better, and the relaxation following savasana. But once daylight savings time hit and evening rides were back in rotation I missed the evening sweat sessions at Yoga and Massage (YAM). The only way I could see fitting in a class was to *gasp* get up and make it to 6am yoga. There are two things that get me up early: making money or racing. But I tried anyway, I wanted to be a person who got up and went to stupid early yoga classes, setting an early alarm here or there, but bed would hold on too tightly each time. Finally in May I was encouraged just enough to commit to 6am yoga twice a week on Mondays for Power Flow and on Thursdays for Yoga Tone. My goal was to make it through May, that was it.
The first Monday in May rolled around and I rolled out of bed, slapped my contacts in, grabbed my mat and water bottle and made it to 6am yoga for the first time in my life! Tired but excited I enjoyed the practice and went home energized and excited to be up…now I had extra time in my day! How cool!
Thursday I repeated the process, clothes laid out the night before, everything ready for me to get up, brush my teeth and head out the door. Now I’ve enjoyed the balance of the Yoga Tone as it challenges me in a different way. It’s more of a workout but brings the breathing, focus, and fluidity of yoga to a hard workout first thing in the morning.
This became my weekly routine. It’s not just the cleansing feeling of sweating on the mat, or the clarifying breaths, or the discovery of what my body can do that I’ve taken with me after each class. It’s also the little nuggets of wisdom and focus that the teachers bring into each practice that I’ve found sneaking into the rest of my day.
One quote that I took away from Yoga Tone was that “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” In the setting of our class it was to lighten the mood through a particularity hard series of lunges and balance moves, but as an athlete I understand this statement so deeply.
On the bike suffering is glorified. The more we suffer, the harder we rode, the more of a cyclist we are. No one wants to talk about the easy efforts, the races where everything came together perfectly. Instead we focus on the sufferfest, the agony of the bike, the rides where we wanted nothing less but to stop and give up the bike for good, or the races where the finish seemed like an insurmountable task. I’ve found myself in these places many times, focusing on the suffering mentally and physically. But in my limited experience of the cycling lifestyle I’ve rarely found that to be a good headspace to cultivate. When I think about how hard it is, how high my heart rate is, that my lap times are slowing down, or I’m being passed too frequently, or that the leaders are too far ahead, when I allow myself to suffer, my performance goes down.
But when I focus on allowing the pain to be felt (bikes are hard, ok), acknowledge that my muscles are burning, my lungs are aching for more air, taste the metallic in my mouth, and know that yes, this is painful but I can always hurt more, then I race and ride so much better. I finish stronger, I have more joy in the process of racing, and most importantly, there are no regrets after I cross the finish line.
So maybe instead of focusing on the suffering, we should change our mindset and focus on the pain. Afterall, that’s a better gauge of what we’re doing and usually lets us know that we can do so much more than we ever imagined.
Kyle asked me today what I would blog about, and I said that my biggest lesson from the past cyclocross season was learning to be open. Then he teased me that everything was going to be about cyclocross. Well, it might not be…but then again…
So this past season was the first that I’ve not been in school on top of work. The previous season I had maintained. It wasn’t a great season but I didn’t loose my finishing place in the field, I beat who I had beat the year before and was beaten by those that had always beaten me. My skills did get better, and I learned more how to prepare myself for my races. So going into this season I hoped for some better finishes than the previous season. Well, I got that and more. But my performance is it’s own post.
So while the season was so satisfying on the performance level there was one main theme that started in the preseason that has carried on until this point. And it’s being open.
I’m naturally a reserved person. Making friends is not easy, I struggle to be vulnerable, I can be judgey, and I’m more likely to say no and stay in an environment that I control and know than go and experience something new. So being open has been a hard thing for me to come into. But this past year has been a transition that I’ve slowly been growing into.
So going into the ‘cross season I was really excited to race and be more involved in the actual series. With more time came the opportunities to be more present locally and start to ride and train with all the awesome people who live and ride in WNC. This started the growth of some really cool friendships that the cross season solidified. People who are genuine, who I trust, and that allowed me to be open to even more opportunities. It’s refreshing to encounter people who are real, open, and honest. Being surrounded by these people came at the time that I was ready to be open to whatever came next…racing, sharing, learning, focusing on not saying no, embracing the opportunities that came to me at work, at play, at home. It also made me be more honest with myself, which can be scary, and define what is next in work and play after school.
I still tend to be cautious, saying no is easier than saying yes, sharing myself is hard, vocalizing what I want and need takes time. But isn’t it better to be open to all that, and the magical experiences that could come to life than to stay the same ol’ course?
So here’s to being open, the people who have given me that space (whether you knew it or not), and to saying yes.
There are so many lessons I’ve learn or realizations that have taken place over the last year. I think it really comes from the fact that I finished school and all the energy that was being channeled into accomplishing that goal along with working, maintaining relationships and riding my bike was now free to explore, challenge, and lead to new opportunities. So I really think that this month will serve as the opportunity at last to document, at least for me, those lessons, changes, and challenges.
If January, well, cyclo-cross nationals taught me anything it was gratefulness. The crew of people that we assembled for the local organizing committee here was one that I never would have picked…not from disliking anyone but just from not fully knowing everyone that came to play such a such role in the execution of the 2016 USA Cycling Cyclo-Cross Nationals in Asheville! Some I knew from running in similar circles. Others I knew in name only. Still others I had never met before they gave so much to bring nationals to life. And some, well, some I’ve known forever. But the magic that was created by this group of people was truly amazing to be a part of. All the frustration, exhaustion, long and cold days, doubt, excitement, energy, support, Fireball and beer, jokes, walkie talkie etiquette lessons, and understanding that flowed leading up to, into and beyond CX Nats blended together and bonded us together in this magical way that I never could have foreseen. But the feeling of euphoria during the last day of Nationals while the elite men whipped around the course, as we stomped around the race course, taking it all in, and slowly realizing that WE DID THIS, and sharing that realization wordlessly made me deeply grateful for that experience. It was worth all the hard work. It was worth the vulnerability of trusting others to be a part of something that was so precious and seeing how they made it better than it could have been with just you. And it made me grateful for each person that was open to being selfless, giving up their own races, comfort, and time to be a part of the bigger game.
This feeling has stayed with me in the 6+ months since Nationals…it’s made me more keenly aware of the opportunities to be grateful in other areas and take the magic with me, always adding a new sparkle to life.
I have so much love and am so thankful for these people, that experience, and its impact on my life, even month later.
I used to really enjoy blogging, using it as a method of tracking the changing of the seasons, my school accomplishments, and then lately my cycling pursuits. But as with many things, the season changed and other priorities moved forward, other interests attracted my attention and energy, and other activities took my time. And that’s fine! But after a year of silence and really, rest and relaxation, I’m missing the sharing of words, if not for anyone else but for the release this provides me!
So my challenge to myself in July is a post a day. I may go back and reflect on all the amazing things the past year has held, or just think and write. The past year has brought a lot of growth, discovery, and amazing people into my life. There’ve been hard times, and hard conversations, but at the end of it I’m finding myself so grateful, so excited, and confidant in who I am and what I want. It’s a good feeling, satisfaction.
So I’ll leave it at that for now…and then leave more for later!
I kept meaning to write race reports and then overdue updates and then…well. You know. So here it finally is. A not so short update of my racing and life.
Going all the way back to January…the end of the cross season left me worn out and fighting sickness. The season wrapped up at the NCCX Biltmore Estate races. The course was to continue testing out features for the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals races. The new features (mostly the impressive run-up) went over well and will really make the course a WNC special!
My “off-season” was going to include returning to the Charlotte Winter Short Track series but school obligations, exhaustion and sickness kept me home. While I was disappointed to miss out the cutback on travel was needed. As we moved through the winter I focused mainly on gym workouts, running and strength training, to keep myself fit and prepare for when time and motivation got me back on the bike. After a slow February March hit and it was on again!
The weather was nice, daylight savings was over (or on, whatever), and I was ready. I made it my goal in March to get 31 workouts in 31 days. Between a combination of riding, circuit training, and yoga I met my goal with a total of 32 workouts by the end of the month! I also started participating in the Etowah Tuesday Night Worlds ride, heading out from Hendersonville each week and working to hang on to the A group as much as possible. I’m still learning how to position my bike in the pack but each week make it a little farther before getting blown out the back.
Another exciting development happened in March. After years of borrowing road bikes, and eventually just smashing along on my cross bike I finally got a road bike! The Giant Defy 1 was my choice and getting that bad boy gave me even more motivation to ride at the end of the month. Austin at Sycamore Cycles in Hendersonville used the Specialized Fit method to get me and the bike dialed. I’m in love with the 11 speed cassette and compact crankset! I’m still getting used to having descent climbing gears and not grinding out super hard gears.
I also knew that 6 Hours of Warrior Creek was coming up the first weekend of April and it was time to at least make an effort! My Pure Velo Racing teammate Jaimee and I had signed up in the duo female category as soon as registration opened. Neither of us had raced it before, but we knew it is one of the don’t miss bike races in the region and we wanted in!
April sneaked up and before I knew it I was getting up at 4:30am to jump in the car and drive to Wilkesboro. It’s already been decided that next year will involve an overnight stay. The drive up was easy since no one else except other crazy bike racers would be up that early. I got to Warrior Creek and met Jaimee. We set up our spot with with Sycamore Cycles crew, guzzled tasty coffee from Bald Guy Brew, and kitted up to spin around before the rider meeting. I was going to lead us off, and had intended to do a proper warm-up in preparation of the fast, crowded first lap. But good intentions fell through and I found myself in the start with 20 minutes of riding easy on my legs. Still, I was excited and knew that the crowded paved start would give me time to open up slowly before dropping into the woods.
Right at 10am we rolled out. I ended up closer to the front of the mass start than I intended but when with it anyway as I passed slower riders and made sure to give room for the faster racers who had gotten caught up in the bag of the field.
The starts of races always get me, it’s the waiting on the start line for call-ups or pre-race instructions that get my nerves jumping. As soon as we actually prepare to start I find that focus and calm needed to start smart right off the line. It’s a release to start pedaling and positioning and finding race focus.
Since the trails were completely new to me I was glad to follow wheels as we zipped into the singletrack. Now that is some fun mountain biking! Around here you ride up, up, up….up….and then down, down, down. Warrior Creek is like one giant pump track with bermed switchbacks spilling out in front of you for miles. The weather had ended up perfect, sunny in the 60’s, a bit of wind. It had rained a little the night before, which helped keep the dust down for the first lap.
I made it to the start/finish area where Jaimee and I traded off and I headed back to eat, stretch and recover for the next lap. 6 hour races are weird. You get warmed up, pumped up, race your lap and then chill, only to do it all over again. It’s nice to have a break so you can treat each lap like a short race (closer to what I race in cross or short track), but it’s an interesting study in mental and physical performance, preparation, and recovery. In the end we each completed two laps and while the results were incorrect weren’t the last duo female team! I’m looking forward to heading back next year better prepared and take some time off!
April was a very busy month. Soccer started so much of the month was spent preparing for that. I also co-promoted the inaugural Blue Ridge Mountain Bike Festival on the grounds of Falling Creek Camp. The race was a part of the Southern Classic Mountain Bike Series. We saw over a 150 racers with great juniors and female fields. It was very rewarding and a bit exhausting but we’re already looking forward to next year’s race being even better!
Another event I was involved in this spring was on a bit of a larger scale. Asheville welcomed the USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals races the second weekend in May. I assisted with planning the banquet but also volunteered and raced in the open categories at the Downtown Asheville Crit hosted by VeloSport. Saturday morning I participated in a women’s crit racing clinic with my teammate Eliz. It was helpful learning more strategy and technique to take into the race since my last crit was two years ago. The course was either up or down with a long climb up to the start/finish area and then around the first corner. It hurt, a lot. But it was good to get in the mix a bit and use some of my newly gained skills from the clinic and riding TNW weekly. After racing I enjoyed a post-ride beverage and then volunteered as a course marshal for the collegiate races. The determination and skill of the collegiate riders was impressive to see. It’s easy to forget the drive that you have when you’re racing for a national title for your team and school. Seeing the races and the victories made me miss collegiate racing! I guess the drive to race worked since I signed up for the later elite women’s race. As a cat 3 I can enjoy both the 3/4 or the elite races. Rolling tot he start I knew I would have a long 50 minutes on the course, sharing the difficult race with some very fast ladies. Like many another foray into elite races for the first time I was prepared to have a long training race. I think I ended up with the group for the first lap before sitting solo most of the time. But what made the race amazing was the support from the sidelines. People I didn’t even know cheered me on each lap as I put an effort into every climb and focused on cornering and descending as well as I could. It’s moments like those that make me so happy to be in the cycling community. Racing is hard, and not always in the best circumstances. I put myself into a crit (for the second time that day!) which is not my preferred racing discipline but was encouraged by people I don’t even know to put it all out there. Plus being the DFL finisher in 10th place with a 10 deep payout didn’t hurt either. Next year I’ll plan to race the Asheville Downtown Crit again, but also look to improve as a crit racer.
At the same time that I was missing collegiate racing, I was also completing an educational milestone of my own. This spring was my final semester at NCSU in the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management program. I wasn’t able to attend graduation with all the bike and work related things that happened in early May but the accomplishment and excitement was just as real. A month later and I’ve received my diploma, which is waiting to be framed and hung in my office. The last month certainly has been busy, exhausting and exciting at the same time. Since my final project was completed I’ve been able to enjoy more time on the bike and spending time with my friends who have put up with my crazy schedule over the past few years. I love the academic world, learning and exploring but I’m glad for a break so I can put my full energy into work and riding. Since graduating from Mars Hill I haven’t been able to train and race at the level I would like, so I’m excited to be able to hit the upcoming cyclocross season with everything I have.
May also brought another milestone. Kyle and I celebrated 7 years of marriage! We were able to get away to Topsail Island for a couple blissful days of beach life. He’s been with me every step of my cycling and education journey, making meals, giving back rubs, pouring wine, encouraging me, challenging me to go faster and ride longer and genuinely supporting my goals and ambitions. I would have been much more stressed and much less fit if it wasn’t for him. I’m excited for the next 7 years of marriage and adventures we’re headed towards!
My most recent bike adventure was participating in the Fletcher Flyer. The Fletcher Flyer raises money and awareness for local cycling causes each year. There were 1000 riders this year riding anywhere from the 50mi route to the full century that started and ended at the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard. I decided to do the metric with Eliz and met up with another new bike friend Erin at the start line. When you almost exclusively race you loose sight of the fact that not everyone races bikes. It was refreshing to see so many types of people out on bikes for so many different reasons. We made really good time with Andy working our bike train through the different groups on the route and finished the 63 miles route in under 4 hours of moving time. We also enjoyed some stops at a couple of the rest stops, with the Sycamore Cycles stop being the highlight with a patriotic theme complete with apple pie and ice cream! The ride was my longest to date. I’ve set my sights on the Tour D’Apple in September for my first century. It will be more of challenge with a lot more climbing all over Henderson County!
Now for the rest of the summer it’s on to more bike riding, summer bike clubs and the 3rd year of the Summer Short Track Series! Plus maybe relaxing a bit? Maybe.
I used to make long lists of resolutions and self improvements (ENTJ, much?), not just at New Years but at my birthday in August or any other life-milestone occasion. The last few years have been so transitional and formative that these lists and time spent in contemplation was good for me. Did I accomplish the things I listed? Some. Am I still working on items that have been on my self-improvement lists for years? Sure! But this January was the first year that I don’t feel driven to create a long list of resolutions, items to focus on or goals to reach. That’s not to say that I don’t have any, but that the ones I have are continuations of ones set long ago. For example, this spring I’ll finish my master’s degree. I’ve been working on that since the thought that I might want to continue my education first crept into my mind while at Mars Hill. Out of that will come another set of educational and professional goals to focus on. Cycling is also continuously pushing and changing my goals. Every 6 months is a transition between disciplines bring around a new set of seasonal goals and check ups on long term ones. So why rush to make a list merely for the sake of a new year when the things I want and need to accomplish will work themselves out in perfect time. Maybe there will be a time when change isn’t constant and the new year will provide the opportunity to readjust and focus on new things. But I don’t feel like that will really ever be the case. Because honestly, if I’m not always climbing then there’s a reason for the stillness.
Ah, it’s come and gone. The paramount weekend of racing in my cycling calendar, the North Carolina Cyclocross Grand Prix! This year has been a little more exciting than in years past since 2014 marks 10 years of UCI/Grand Prix race in the NCCX series. The series itself is 18 years old, so we’ll have another epic celebration soon! I’ve been involved in the NCGP for years now (although not even close to 10), but this year I’ve been able to be more involved with the series. Being able to help build the excitement through social media and help NCCX expand the fanbase has been really fun. The actual weekend of racing is always a bit conflicting from racer perspective. On one hand I want to throw down the best race of my season and have some truly great results (especially since I train on the course and feel a certain bit of home court pride). On the other hand, the days preceding that go into setting up the course and making sure all the details are covered, combined with early mornings and late nights during the actual race weekend make it difficult to race at the top of my game. This season has been challenging since my time and energy has been so limiting, but I’ve realized even more the importance of mindset and self-motivation. The race is more about what I do then who I beat or were I place (though those things certainly do effect the post-race mental state!).
The weather turned out to be absolutely beautiful! I know a lot of people were hoping for the sloppy mud fest like we had last year, but let me tell you, good weather really eases the preparation and execution of an event! When you’re outside for 12+ hours every day for days on end, you really appreciate it when it’s dry and not below freezing. This years course was very euro, with wide turns, choose your line options and a couple new features for day two. Fast courses are not my friends, but the advantage of setting up is learning every line, finding the trouble spots, and knowing the course by heart. It really is awesome seeing the course take shape in the days leading up to the race, and seeing and hearing how much it’s appreciated. There were more pre-riders out on the Friday before then ever, and the excitement was already filling the park. Race day number one came, and everything got started without a hitch! My races have been early afternoon this season, and the Grand Prix schedule was no different. Even with the time to get everything started and having breathing room before warming up I still struggled to get ready and have a proper warm up. But I worked with what time I had and felt pretty good at the start. I ended up on the front row (of two in the little 2/3 women’s field), which was a nice exception from the normal place I start in the elite races during the series. I always get nervous right before a race during call ups. It’s like the anxiety of being between warming up and racing is overwhelming, like I need to have a focus but it’s too soon to be that focused. Once I got into my start position though I can focus, relax and be ready to go. And this time, I was ready to go! The whistle blew and I took off! I clipped in, but lost one pedal a couple strokes in (old cleats are so slick!). Instead of working to get clipped back in I just kept pedaling, working to be the first into the grass off the paved start. Then the weirdest thing happened, I was alone. I couldn’t hear or feel anyone as I got closer to the grass. I remember grinning since I made the hole shot! I knew going into the race that I didn’t have much to give so I was going to give whatever I had at the start. It worked, I had a pretty large going into the barriers, and held on to the lead for half a lap. It was awesome. And then slowly I was reined back in and shuffled through the field to my normal low position. I struggled on the back climb in the mud, which was frustrating since usually I can handle the slickly icky. This time though my legs let me down, and I couldn’t do much more than walk up the hill. Despite adding running to my training this year, the week caught up with me and my legs just didn’t have it. But I sucked it up and did work to gain back the places I lost on the hill. In the end I finished strong, made it up the wall, and didn’t finish that far off of where I finished last year. That is the best part about my finish. It showed me that even with my reduced training time, increased stress, and lack of a formal training/coaching plan I was able to maintain and be pretty dang close to where I was last year.
After spending the evening moving the course around for day two, Janet and I enjoyed a quick beer and pizza. Then it was home to attempt some sort of recovery before doing it all again on Sunday! Sunday’s course had the most changes of any NCGP day two course that I can remember. The first grass section was reworked into a large sweeping turn before climbing back up and over, quickly descending into a fast launch across the road and into the grass towards the barriers. Then there was a quick little punch on the backside before moving into a long off-camber section that pushed you down to the run-up. The usual twists and turns were reworked coming out of the woods before the tennis courts and the wall. The most exciting change was a quick dog-leg turn at the top of the wall, with the option to ride off-camber along the hill or use the momentum from going to the bottom of the hill and propelling yourself up to the gates. It was great seeing the confusion and expressions of riders as they encountered the new feature for the first time! It was a great fun add to the course and allowed riders to choose whatever method of getting across that they were comfortable with. I had another great start, which was surprising as my legs were so sore and tight. I was also really tired, to the point that I felt like I could take a nap sitting at the start line for call ups. I hung in the top five for the first half a lap and just chugged away for the rest of the race. I ended up 9 out of 13 both days, which is a normal finish for me. Most of all, I enjoyed both races, was able to push and suffer and finish strong. You can’t ask for much more than that!
Overall, the weekend was great! We had competitive men and women’s elite races both days, with an intense sprint finish for the men on Sunday. The winner of the women’s race both days, BethAnn Orten had her first UCI win at the NCGP. I was able to wander around, tweeting and Facebooking the whole thing, watching great races, supporting my friends, and being surrounded by cyclists.
Even after the event ended it was exciting seeing all the pictures, the statuses and feedback from racers. There really is nothing like the racing community and I’m pretty stoked that I can be a part of it beyond just racing (which is awesome in of itself too!).
Now I’m looking towards the Biltmore CX race in January as we get one step closer to cyclocross nationals coming to Asheville in 2016! After that I’ll stretch out my season a little longer through racing the Charlotte Winter Short Track Series again. Then there are some other things I’ve got up my sleeve that should be pretty cool.
On the non-cycling front, the spring semester will be my final semester in my graduate program! I can’t wait to wrap up that chapter in May. And believe it or not Kyle and I will celebrate our 7 year wedding anniversary!
So I guess that’s my 2014 wrap up, 2015 look forward?