5: Pain is Inevitable

pain suffering buddhaIn 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.

NCGP Report

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.

Flat launch into the grass
Flat launch into the grass

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!

Suffering
Suffering

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?

Biltmore CX

So, my 2013-14 cyclocross season is officially over! I was able to finish strong by racing the North Carolina Cyclocross series final races held on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate. Biltmore will be hosting the USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals in 2016, so this weekend was the inaugural race to test out possible course design and features. Admittedly, I did get a sneak peak a week before since I do some work with NCCX. It was pretty exciting seeing the before and during, as well as hearing all the feedback and evaluating how things went and ways to take the BIltmore race experience to the next level.

As Saturday got closer I started to feel less and less motivated to race. I wanted to be at Biltmore, surrounded by bike racers and absorbing everything possible from the weekend, but I just wasn’t feeling racing. I knew that this was the final goal of my training plan, so obviously I had to race, but mentally I was not feeling it! Fortunately I was preregistered so at that was working towards getting me on the bike. Getting to the site early on Saturday morning was good. It had “snowed” a bit the night before, leaving a light dusting over the fields. The sky was pastel and the moon was still up. Biltmore is a beautiful place regardless of the time of year, but getting more of a winter feel while driving in was nice.

Saturday Morning
Saturday Morning

I started hustling to do what I could to help get everything ready to roll. While the Biltmore race was a big race, the day-0f prep logistics were fairly low (partially due to it being the first ever with little elements outside of NCCX). The course at Biltmore is located near Antler Hill Village. Since this is the first year a course has been marked out, it is shorter than it will be for Nationals, and there will be features added over the next few races to take it to the next level. The start was paved, up to a grassy section with several turns before hitting a set of barriers. Then it was back on to pavement before going into a chicane through more field, followed by another paved section, before moving towards the pits. The area around the pits was the roughest since it was a field area that had only been mowed the week of the race. After the pits the course moved onto a gravel road before dipping down to approach the run up. I loved the run up both days. It was super steep but not too long to absolutely kill every time. Plus I’ve been feeling better about the short running sections lately due in part to circuit training. Then there was more grassy up and down before climbing up a gradual climb to the most popular race feature: the drop-off! It was a steep dirt drop-off behind the bike rental barn, that took you out around the corner of the building. The drop-off was a little slick on Saturday, but that made it more fun! Sunday work was done to dry it out, which made it too simple, in my mountain bikers opinion! The drop-off was followed by a grassy off-camber section that dipped down into a wooded area. The off-camber was fast and I was able to take a low line and make up time on this part of the course. After the wooded area, the course worked around some gravel turns (never my favorite) and then into more grass with another barrier that most riders had to dismount to get over and then run up. The remainder of the course was made up of the return to the puts through the field and then back onto the pavement to the finish (here’s a video of the course from BikeRumor!).

Saturday was cold! Add in a nice chilling wind and it was bitter out! Thankfully it was dry and sunny all day. As the morning progressed and the first races went off, I started to get ready to race. My warm-up was poor, I didn’t even get a pre-ride in (granted, I knew the course), and I wasn’t excited. It was cold, I knew it would hurt, and traditionally, flat, power courses like the Biltmore course have not been my friends.

The start line is a unique place. There you can find pure focus, motivation, nerves, excitement, terror. It is all about the race in that moment as you get ready to start. It was only there that I started to get out of my head that was telling me that I shouldn’t be there riding my bike. I had a descent start, nothing great, nothing terrible. The start was fast! It’s always fast but this course was a fast course all around and it started right off the bat.

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc
Coming out of the off-camber — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

My legs were tired and racing below freezing is not something my body responds well to. All the doubt about being on the bike came back for the first lap. I was lagging and was not feeling good. I knew it was all mental. That was the frustrating thing, it was all up to me and I was letting myself down! Coming through the finish on the first lap something clicked and I started to pull it together. The rest of the race was hard, I had to keep changing my mindset, grinning even though I didn’t feel like it, and pedaling as hard as I could whenever I could. I finished, I raced, and by the end my mental block was gone and I was excited to redeem myself the next day!

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc
Run up — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

Sunday was a little warmer. It was right around 40 degrees for my start.  I like racing at 40 degrees. It’s just cold enough to keep me from over heating, warm enough I can get away w/o a base layer or arm warmers (gotta have the knee warmers to keep that funky knee of mine happy). I had a good warm-up, I knew the course, and I was ready. The field was larger by one for Sunday, with a different mix of racers. Another fast start, before jumping into the grass and working across the barriers. Typically with the combined field of races in the women’s race the first lap is fast and furious with a lot of bunching before spreading out in the second lap. Usually these races end up with me being there by myself, maintaining my position and cruising along. But not this time! I guess it was the combination of this particular group of racers, the last race and great conditions that turned it into a hammer fest. For pretty much the first time in a combined field cross race I was being chased and chasing the entire time! It was amazing! It was hard, especially on the flat bumpy field sections with a headwind! My derailleur wanted to be difficult during the last 2/3rds of the race as well, causing some frustration as I tried to get in the gear I needed for the inclined sections. I actually kept telling myself “my bike does not define me” each time the chain would slip. For most of the race there was one racer in front of me who I kept almost catching and then she would pull ahead. I knew I had advantage in the technical areas but wasn’t so sure about the straightaways.  After going through the finish line and seeing 2 laps to go, I was pretty much set on being where I was in the field for the finish. But the lap leaders passed me with about a half a lap to go. At that point I decided that I had to put the hammer down and see if I could catch the rider in front of me. It was the last race, I had nothing to do but leave it all out there! So I went! I rode hard and fast, and then I was running out of course! As soon as I hit the final paved section I put it all out there and once I could see the finish I stood up and sprinted as hard as I could. I just overtook the racer in front of me with just  a few yards to go! It was so intense, I don’t even really have the words to describe it other than “yes!” and then “I’m going to die.” My place was 12 out of 15. It’s one of the best finishes I’ve had in the Pro1/2/3 field, and I had to do work to get it. That race was one of the hardest due to how the field was spread out, but it also made it that much more memorable and fun.

Corner into the fenced passage -- Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc
Corner into the fenced passage — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

I’m satisfied with the way I ended my cross season. It had been a little touch and go all weekend, but Sunday’s race really did end things well. I want to thank my coach Hugh Moran, my shop Beer City Bicycles, North Carolina Cyclocross, and all you awesome racers out there that I’ve raced against this season!!

2014 Goal: Control

Ah, the new year. A time when you can’t help but reflect and make some sort of commitment to the betterment of self!

2013 has seen my final (at least for now) collegiate cycling seasons with Cyclocross Nationals and BMX Nationals as highlights. It’s also brought my first season of racing cyclocross on my own. I knew that not being on a team would present its own challenges, I’ve been lucky to have the guidance of a coach for my entire time cycling. I also didn’t want to waste the season: my fitness, skills, time, and money are too valuable to have a mediocre season. I didn’t want to lose fitness, and personally need the external motivation and accountability that a coach and training plan provide. Balancing school and work with cycling is nothing new, but I wanted the time I spent training and racing to really matter.  Learning from my almost non-existent summer mountain bike season, I knew things would have to change for cross season.

Lucky, I was able to get my former collegiate coach, Hugh, to be my coach for this season! Hugh limits the number of private clients he takes on so he can focus on their development in additional to coaching the Mars Hill Cycling team. I can’t say enough how having a training plan and coach helped me. Sure, there were days I slacked off, and workouts that were missed. But then there were days that I got over myself and did it anyway. And then there were the days that I was super excited about my training sessions and made it count even more!

Looking back at my cross races from this season, I made a few mistakes. I got upset and raced stupid. I lost focus and made technical errors. My barriers were terrible at the beginning of the season, I’ve never wrecked trying to dismount so many times! I even had my first major racing wreck (at the Mars Hill race nonetheless)! But when  I worked all those things out, and let each race be a lesson, I had good races! I felt like I was racing were I should be, I was smart, and I wasn’t disappointed with my result. It excites me to think about where I’ll be next year with more riding, more training, more racing knowledge under my belt.

So all in all, I’m pleased with my season. For the next year I’m going to keep building, keep learning, and keep improving. I know it’s a long, steady road. As much as I wish it was quick and easy, it’s not. My genetics, time, and priorities aren’t going to lead to pro-cyclocrosser Laura. But they’ll take me far enough.

I used to make all sorts of goals and resolutions for the new year. But my birthday, start of the school year, and work anniversaries provide much better opportunities for goal setting. So I’ve learned to choose a word for the year. Last year my word was “achieve.” I lived up to it, achieving long time goals, and succeeding in my first year of full-time employment in my field.   This year I’m choosing “control” as my word. Oh no, a type-A personality choosing to focus on control?! Yes, control. With more control on my time, food consumption, work tasks, school tasks, cycling time, social interactions and personal balance I know I can rise even farther up, and hopefully develop some good habits along the way!

So here’s to 2014, you’re looking bright!

Fontana Dam Jam Race Report

Better late than never, eh?

Last Sunday I raced the Fontana Dam Jam at Lake Fontana, NC. The race was #12 of the Southern Classic Series. After a summer of very little racing, I decided that I had to do at least one cross country race before transitioning to cyclocross. I knew it was going to be a test of my fitness and technical skills, as well as a new experience being my Cat 1 race AND first non-collegiate cross country. Add to that never riding any trails at Fontana ever!

At the start
At the start

The women’s Pro-Cat 1 field was slated to start at 9:30am and race three 8 miles laps. At the start, they combined the field with the Cat 2 women and reduced the race to 2 laps. I was relieved, the closer I got to racing, the more trepidation I felt. I knew my fitness wasn’t really where it needed to race such a demanding race, especially as a Cat 1. Still, I decided that it was better to race than not race! Long story short, my start was semi-decent, but I lost several places going into the woods and didn’t recover. Mentally I was struggling with my decision to race and the difficulty of the course. It was either constant climbing or fast and technical descents. I have to remind myself at times that I am not the rider I wish I was, I’ve still only have two years of riding down, and that it’s not collegiate anymore. Towards the end of the first lap, there was a .5 mile climb at 21%. When I hit it, it was like I hit something strong in myself. I knew I could make it, it would be slow but there would be no walking. After that point I started to enjoy the trails, focused on maintaining a good speed and flow and going for it. It helped that soon after was a super speedy and fun piece of singletrack that made me happy with life again (Icycle DH segment on Strava).  The rest of the race was like the course for me, mentally and physically up and down. It was hot and humid, typical NC stuff, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was under prepared for this race. But, I finished. I got up, I went and rode, I battled myself, and I didn’t quit. Sometimes that all I can ask of myself.

Almost finished!
Almost finished!

Mikey also raced and won his Cat 2 race with a 5 minute margin, but got DQ’ed based on a technicality. We all know who the real winner was though.

Mikey coming into the finish
Mikey coming into the finish

 

After all is said and done, I did what I could! The trails at Fontana are amazing, and I can’t wait to spend some time out there for more leisurely riding. NC is a great place to be a mountain biker for sure!

What’s next? Cyclocross training baby! I’ll have more exciting news about cyclocross soon!

Bonus:

Skratch love
Skratch love

I would have died without the Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix! Get some at Beer City Bicycles!

June Thoughts

It’s June and I’m already thinking cross season! While the weather is good for outside riding now, long term will see me back inside on the CompuTrainers at Spin-Tech Training to get the most effective training in for racing. I should be focusing on mountain biking and getting as much racing experience in cross country as I can. But when I think about riding, my mind just flows along to cyclocross. I can’t help it. I love it so much! And then of course, there’s the wanting the things that you can’t have right now. I guarantee you, in the cold winter days of cross I’m dreaming of sunny warm mountain bike rides!

It’s been just over a month since I graduated. It was astonishing how much excitement and support other people had for me! I’m truly grateful to everyone who has encouraged me, dealt with my weird schedule, believed in me and inspired me! So after all that excitement was over, I was left feeling a little lost. Graduation day was THE day I’ve been working towards for over 5 years. Suddenly, it came and then was gone! When something has been such a driving force for so long, it’s weird not to have it there anymore. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans and goals. It was more of a re-adjustment, a reveling in my achievement and then moving on! It’s still so weird that I don’t have assignments looming, or have to balance my work tasks with school tasks. All of that will return soon enough however. In mid-August I start my graduate studies in the North Carolina State University online master’s program for recreation. I’m really excited, nervous of course, but mostly just eager to start the next step in my professional education.

We kicked off the first short track race of the series two weeks ago with 60 racers, kids-cat 1. It was awesome seeing something that I’ve wanted and worked for come to life! The next race will be this Wednesday, and I’m excited for the all the ways that I can grow and improve the series. It really wouldn’t have been as easy without the help of Sycamore Cycles, Donnie in particular. If you’re in Hendersonville, make sure to stop by their shop.

Sunday I’m heading down to the Tiger Rag cross country race in Clemson. I’m excited to see what it’s like to get back into cross country racing. It’s been about 9 months since nationals at this point…that’s a long time! My expectations aren’t that high, my goal is to go race, have a good time and see where I end up! I wish there were more cross country races in the WNC. Here we’re inundated with mega races, endurance races, stage races. Most cross country races take place far far away from Asheville. Maybe that’ll have to be the next race series I start!

The rest of my summer looks pretty much the same…racing here and there. I think I’m going to try more road racing with the French Broad Classic…not sure if that’s a good idea or not! Way to jump into it! But hey, that’s what summer without school is for: riding as much as possible!

 

Class of 2013!

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So, this happened. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with my Bachelor of Science in Recreation and Sports Management, minor in Business from Mars Hill College on May 11, 2013.

Five years of classes, commuting, balancing school, work, and life, experiencing new things, finding new passions, having old passions affirmed and stoked up, meeting people, gaining new friends…the list could go on and on! But it has all added up to a blinged out piece of paper that makes me smile every time I look at it

It’s quite surreal that I’ve finally done it and gotten my bachelor of science in recreation! It’s also surreal how attached and how ingrained being at Mars Hill became in just two years. I’m really going to miss being there, interacting with the amazing faculty, traveling with the cycling team and making friends. My experiences are more diverse and my understanding of the world has increased so much in the past two years. Not to mention the knowledge gained in my field of study and the ideas and philosophies that have been passed on to me.

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It was also a special day since my sister graduated from Mars Hill College too! It’s because of her that I even started to consider MHC, and then the rest is history!

A few thanks and shout outs:

  • To Kyle for being patient when my assignments took the place of us time, taking care of the house, encouraging me to ride and train even when I didn’t feel like it, putting up with traveling for cycling, and giving me back rubs when I’m stressed
  • To my family for being supportive and proud and never being dismissive of my choices
  • To my sister Becky who first mentioned Mars Hill College
  • To Hugh Moran for welcoming a newbie with open arms to the cycling team and hence starting something incredible in my life
  • To Dr. Andersen for understanding my Type A personality, my needs as a non-tradition traditional commuter working student, and for sharing his experiences and thoughts about recreation
  • To the cycling team kids for just being who you are and never making me feel inferior despite my lack of experience (also, for some of the funniest moments of my life!)
  • To Tim, my boss and inspiration, who has supported me while letting me find my own way to achieve my goals, as well as being so flexible with my work schedule
  • To my friends who have been understanding of my social absence due to cycling and schooling
  • To the faculty of Mars Hill College who have instructed me, praised me, and supported my as a part of the cycling team,  especially to the Registrar’s Office for keeping my records and transcripts error free!

There really aren’t enough words to express the impact Mars Hill has had on me. All I know is that I was were I was supposed to be for the last two years, and that they were amazing!

Here’s to 2013, looking back at what I’ve achieved and looking forward to the next adventure!