(photo credit: Wil Matthews)
I had high hopes heading into last weekend. After decent enough results in my ‘comeback’ race at CXLA the previous weekend, I felt confident in my ability to string together a solid weekend of racing in Bend for the final two races of the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross (USGP) series. Saturday’s race offered the last chance to secure C1 points in the US, and I haven’t yet maxed out on the C2 points on offer on Sunday, so I looked forward both to testing myself against a strong, deep field and the opportunity to secure as many points as possible to make up for the points I lost when sidelined.
I have a great relationship with Bend. It’s where I won my national road title (‘09) and where I climbed onto my first ‘cross national podium (second in ‘09/third in ‘10). I like the town. I love the spectators. The course usually suits me well enough. Basically, I dig the whole scene in a place that has been especially kind to me over the last four years, and I was psyched to be back here for such an important race weekend.
If you read my race reports from last weekend, you’ll know that the first day in LA set a pretty high bar. I was initially pretty bummed not to have a repeat performance on day two but eventually came around to feel happy with the weekend in general and confident about my chances in Bend. Of course, I knew the field I’d face in Bend would be bigger, stronger and deeper than the one I raced against in LA. I knew the races would be tough, and I was still a bit nervous about my race fitness, but overall, I felt pretty good.
I flew into Bend late Thursday night and had a chance to pre-ride the course on Friday. While I didn’t love the course, I felt good enough about it except for one section that was a ride up for most but a run up for me. During pre-ride, I was extremely frustrated with my inability to ride this particular section because it was painfully obvious that riding vs. running would result in saving a huge amount of time. So, when I got wind of a video circulating that showcases my weakness in all its glory, I wanted nothing to do with it. I didn’t want to watch it. I didn’t want to hear about it. I didn’t want to think about it.
Now, I can look back at it and laugh. Mostly. I sucked at that section. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to work on my skills on the bike since I was stuck on the trainer for five weeks. My bike handling skills have always been an area I’ve needed to work extremely hard to improve and maintain, so spending time off the bike during the season certainly set me back in that area. So, I’ll work on it and be happy that I still have the opportunity to be back at all.
Although I had a decent start to my race on Saturday, it quickly became obvious that something was a bit off. I had trouble getting comfortable, and I never settled into a rhythm. I didn’t have bad legs, exactly, but the legs I did have were not doing what I can usually count on them to do. It felt like everyone around me was flying, taking clean lines, throwing elbows and settling in while I floundered and flustered. This was especially disheartening in sections where I can normally count on gaining an advantage over my competitors.
As I consider Saturday in hindsight, I can be a bit more removed from the disappointment and frustration that I carried for several hours immediately following the race. I recognize that there is an element of reacclimation after an injury – at least for me – and it may take me a few more races to regain race fitness on top of the general fitness I worked so hard to maintain.
Also, I had the wrong attitude during the race when things started to go wrong. As riders came around me, I found myself thinking: “I’m too slow right now. They’re passing me because they’re faster than me. I better let them come around me because they’re fast and I’m slow.” Not exactly winning self-talk right there.
Towards the end of the race, I was riding in a group that would be racing for sixth place. Teal Steson-Lee (Luna Chix), Mical Dyck (Stan No Tubes), Elle Anderson (Ladies First) and I formed a fairly cohesive group until the last lap when all three of the riders – Teal, Michael and Elle – ended up putting distance between themselves and me. They contested a three-up sprint for sixth and I crossed the line alone in ninth.
(photo credit: Wil Matthews)
Given any other circumstances, ninth place would be hard to swallow – and even considering the circumstances, ninth was pretty hard to swallow. I continually need to remind myself to look at the big picture here, and I have to remember what I have been through over the last nine weeks. The setback that was Saturday is part of the process I need to go through to achieve my goals, and I’m learning to be okay with a that.
Many people reminded me that a bad day on Saturday did not necessary mean a bad day on Sunday, so despite how disappointed I felt, I worked really hard to set aside what felt like a total disaster and focus on a new race on a new day. It was hard to ignore my nerves completely and hold onto the same confidence I had before the race on Saturday, but I honestly did my best not to psych myself out before I started.
I really can’t explain what happened. I had bad legs. My back was bothering me. I started to let negative self-talk creep into my head. By the second lap of the race, I was outside the top ten and feared falling outside the top twenty, and I did what I have only done once before in my ‘cross career. I pulled the plug. I withdrew from the race.
After fighting so hard to come back to racing and maintaining a single-minded focus on doing everything I could do to return in the best possible condition, I found myself standing on the sidelines again – not because I was injured but because I couldn’t push through my self doubt to continue. It was super disheartening. As I stood there, I realized that the reason I started racing ‘cross (because it’s FUN) had fallen to the wayside during my recovery. I have been so determined to make it to the start line in Louisville for the Cyclocross World Championships that I’ve become a stickler for perfection.
I have never been a perfectionist. It’s just not the way I function. And the way I’ve functioned has generally served me well. I allowed myself to forget that as I’ve become obsessed with gobbling up points and getting results to prove that I’m worthy of selection for Worlds.
So, I’m taking a step back. My goals are still my goals, but I’m urging myself to remember there are many ways that I can achieve them. I need to be kinder, gentler and more patient with myself and remember what my body has recently been subjected to due to injury, recovery and a return to racing. I can be proud of the fitness I maintained on the trainer while recognizing that trainer fitness does not equal race fitness – at least for me – and that there’s still work to do to get that race fitness I know I’m capable of finding again.
I also need to shove Worlds away from the forefront of my mind. I’ll continue to do the right things (for me) and focus on my goals but not because I want to make Worlds – because I want to do well at the next race. And then the next one. And then the next one after that. It’s one race at a time focused instead of Worlds focused. In the end, if my approach works out and I’m in Louisville in early February, I’ll be thrilled. If not….well, if not, I’ll deal with that when the time comes.
In the meantime, I’m back in Boulder where I’ll train hard for the next nine days before I head to Europe to race the Christmas World Cups and three C1 races. I enjoy racing over there, and while this wasn’t part of my original plan, I’ve embraced it. I know the first World Cups will be incredibly hard. I also know I can handle hard. I’m mentally preparing myself for all sorts of outcomes while hoping for the best.
Last week, I thanked everyone for their support in getting me over the bump that was my return to racing – as if it was a linear process with smooth sailing ahead. Post-Bend, I know that the road in front of me may contain any number of bumps. I also know I’m incredibly lucky to enjoy a huge amount of support along the way.