Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Off Season??

It's the off season...
whatever that means in cycling, right? I'm sure those of us that have been racing the extended cross season feel like the gap has been shortened a bit and the off season seems a little less this year. For me, I think this gap seems a little shorter personally since it's the first winter in 6 years that I haven't had some sort of surgery (everyone knock on wood now!) I'm super excited and feeling very blessed and thankful to say my health is doing well these days and that I'm am very much looking forward to seeing what my body and fitness can do while training without an illness or major setback every few months or so. I can honestly say I don't really know what it's like to not have any major setbacks, so the hope of the new year has got me ready to rock!

(Enjoying some off-season/base training/ coffee shop rides. Aaron's Kermit and my Dirty Harry taking a break while we enjoy some great coffee in the Louisville area)

I had a fabulous time the last several months representing Bob's Red Mill during the cyclocross season, but now it's onto the road and mountain bike season and I will be back riding with my team, Men of Steel, again this year. I've only really been back on the bike training again for the last 3 weeks after needing some time to recover from my arm injury at CX World's and to finally get 100% from the flu that has been going around and has been lingering with me since cyclocross nationals.

I have high hopes for a good showing at Barry Roubaix (BR) in Michigan in a few weeks, so Coach Mark Faz and I have put the training routine in high gear to get me back up to speed from the time I had off the bike. I had done BR a couple years back and can honestly say it was one of the hardest races I had ever done- so I'm clearly nuts since I have signed up again. The race has grown in popularity and seems a lot more quality women have signed up so that's great! I'm taking my experiences from the previous year and my set-up from my Gravel Grovel success to hope for a higher placing than 4th from the last time I did it.

Of course, the ultimate prep for BR this year will be taking part in Sub 9 productions Death March on 3/10. My sherpa Aaron and I will team up and have a fun day in the hills of southern Indiana. The idea of me taking part in a race call a "death march" seems a bit odd since I was on my own personal death march not so long ago... but this time I won't be trying to avoid the grave, we will actually be seeking them out... but only to visit!

(Bring on the Perk! Thankfully too... saved me from a bonk!)

Aside from that, I have been enjoying some relaxing days at home with some good books (The Hunger Games trilogy) sprinkled with an occasional road training trip here and there before the travel and days away from home become more and more as the summer approaches. Aside from BR, I haven't really set my sights on many major goals for the year aside from the cross season, but I'm sure I'll come up with a few before cross is here. I do plan on a full summer of mtb races and an occasional road race or crit, but at this point I'm just being thankful for the healthy time I am having on the bike at the moment!

I know racing is just around the corner and everyone is itching to showcase the fitness they have gained after a mild winter we have all had. This should make for some swift racing right from the get go...
just don't forget to save some legs and heart for cross!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Surprise, surprise! Master's Nats.

There I was.

About 2 minutes into the Master's 35-39 national championship race about to head up the first hill. I was taken back by the moment emotionally for the first time ever in a race.

Normally, I'm rock solid during a race, focused, and I think a tornado could pass by me and I wouldn't flinch at all. But as I headed up the muddy straight to the hill I had an open path ahead of me... I was in the lead. For a fleeting moment I was struck by the realization of something I didn't expect: I could win the race. After all, I wasn't suppose to be here. Not Madison exactly, but here. On earth. I can tell the story about how bad I was, but only I know how bad I felt personally and how this huge void of other riders in front of me was something I didn't expect. The hope of it gave me a ton of joy. After all, my goal for the day after my single speed race was to finish in the top 5. I smiled to myself for a moment and knew I had already won for myself. There isn't anything quite like the feeling of real hope. Just like when I was sick and had no doubt I wasn't going to make it, the moment I felt hope of living was a thought I will never forget... just like this moment. I exceeded every expectation of myself right then and there. It was a pleasant surprise.

Time to snap out of it though. On to the remainder of the race. I knew I had my work cut out for me on top of all that already happened during the season. I had been feeling sick since the SS race and I didn't know how it would effect me. The other work would be the heavy favorite who had won the uci elite women's race in Chicago the previous weekend. I'll say it once to get it out of my system: why anyone who WINS a well staked UCI elite race turns around and races a master's national champ race is beyond me. Personally, I think it's bad form. Just sayin. There.

As to no surprise, I quickly lost the lead on the hill. It was sloppy enough that everyone dismounted to run it. By this point it was a clear group of 4 of us that had already gained a fair gap on the main field. This would be the race for stars and bars here. Being that I had not raced national level races all year, I took a look around to assess who I was racing here. I knew the pro Sally would do her thing. I recognized a CO sponsor on one of the gals kits (perhaps some good mtb skills?) and knew Corey C from previous years. But how would everyone hold up? I had no idea.

As the first lap played out I just focused on me. The other 3 gals gained a slight amount of time on me and I was in 4th for quite some time. I had made a few minor errors the first lap and needed to adjust some lines for the next time around. It was also clear that a clean bike would be needed from the Bob's Red Mill mechanics (Dave and Ray) in the busy pits every lap if not more. The course was tons of fun, but it required patience as the corners were so slick that standing up out of the corners wouldn't be possible. I had power, I just had to pick the best spots to redirect it. So I did. Near the end of the 2nd lap I regained the 2nd and 3rd place group. and held steady with them. It was clear to me that Corey was getting a bit tired but Kristal from CO was strong in the technical sections and could ride the climbs better then myself. We dropped Corey near the end of the 2nd lap. And there it was again: hope. Would I finally break that 4th place spot at nats? I knew 1st place was way off the front, but it was a real chance I
could get 2nd. Surprise!

The 3rd lap we held the group going back and forth. I knew where I was stronger and weaker. Coming through the start/ finish on the final lap I decided to try and gain some time in the power requiring muddy straights and I held 2nd place for a while. It was really cool to have so many people cheering for me personally out there! I was so excited and thrilled to be in that position and this just put icing on the cake! Thanks to all of you!

(Nice little video of last lap battle by Marion U's Dean Peterson. Thanks Dean!)

Kristal slowly gained some more time back up to me and we were in a straight up mano e mano battle for 2nd. I knew she would get me on the last hill so I knew I had to take a chance and try to gain time by riding the sketchy sand pit before that. I dove into it. Rode it. Until I bobbled. Darn. She instantly gained 5 seconds on me. I got it back together and put my head down and tried my best to get back to her. You never know right? Anything can happen in cross. Turns out though, it didn't. We held that placing to the end. I came across in 3rd place and was completely happy with the way I raced. I had a blast. To me, that's what racing should be. Bar to bar, a nail bitter to the end that requires risks to be taken. I just happened to bobble, but that's okay. If given the chance again... would I take the safe route? Who knows? Knowing me, probably not. No sense in playing it back now. Life is shaped by the risks, chances, failures, and heartbreaks we experience. There are no "do overs."

I can't say enough how proud I was to have gotten 3rd. I can't say how proud I was really to even just be racing. It was a personal struggle that so many have helped me overcome. Months ago when I was unsure of how my health would handle the recovery, handle functioning with 1 and a half lungs, handle dealing with a chronic illness of myesthenia gravis; I told my closest friend, my Mom, that I would accept never being able to ride seriously again. It was a heartbreaking acceptance knowing what I love so much was not going to be possible anymore. But it might be my fate, and I had to move on and accept it.

How would you get along if you could no longer do what you love the most?
I accepted whatever God had planned for me, but I wanted to see how it would go. Which was it: yes or no?

At the end of the day a writer from Cyclocross magazine, Ted Burns, ( ) interviewed me on the race. In his report later he said my story was worthy of a true Hoosier comeback story. That's what he told me at the end of the interview too. Of course, I love that movie. I grew up with a basketball in my hands, lived and breathed basketball. I still get excited during the final game of the movie. Everything about my basketball life parallelled the plot of Hoosiers it seemed. I grew up in a town of 140 people in Indiana, no one thought we could ever be at the top. The team in Hoosier's didn't belong in a state final. But they did and it was a wonderful story in the end. A real tear jerker.

When I got back to my truck to change before the podium presentation I glanced at my phone. So many messages from loved ones, friends, and family. Everyone was so happy for me and had a blast following the race online. It was a cool moment to read though all the messages. They were happy for me, but even if no one would have been... I was happy for my own personal reasons.

This was the end to my story for the season... I reflected on the last half year quietly to myself. It was a good story. But for me, it wasn't just a tear jerker.
I let the entire flood gates open!