Reflections of the Off-Season
With the flip of a switch, Summer has arrived. And with it's arrival comes the new season of preparation for the approaching cyclocross season.
After returning back to the States at the end of February, I was completely cooked. If I'm honest though, I was pretty much cooked the last two weeks of the cross season. More than anything, the mental strain of being "on" for six months had taken it's toll and I was ready for a break. And a break I did get. For three weeks I didn't touch a bike. There was some fitness-related activities involved but nothing in the way of two wheels. In my time off the bike, I had a lot of time to catch up with friends and resume life outside of bike racing.
It's now June and I've got a few months of riding under my belt. From a training perspective, the fitness is coming back to a degree, and within a few months it will be time to start the 2018 cyclocross season. But more than anything, this time away from bikes allowed me to reflect and think about the lessons I had learned over the past six months or so.
Recovery Makes You Faster
Taking a month off in the heat of the Texas road season made it difficult to watch from the sidelines. Many of my friends were out racing and riding all the time. It was hard to avoid the bike and spend more time on the coach than on two wheels. But in the back of my mind I knew that this time off would allow me to come into the cyclocross season firing on all cylinders and ready to rip. Plus, I didn't want to mess with chronic fatigue.
I dealt with that before, fatigue. In 2013, when I moved to the Lone Start State, I was just wrapping up a year of constant training and racing. From collegiate road season, to summer road racing, to collegiate mountain bike, to my first season of cyclocross, to collegiate road, and finally to another summer road season, I had worn myself down to the brink of exhaustion. I would sprint for the first town line on the Saturday group ride and feel as though I cracked a thousand times over. I don't think I was anywhere close to that this year, but the mind and the body was in definite need of some downtime to absorb the work that I had put in and find some sense of "normal life" off the bike.
Take Care of Your Relationships
One of the hardest parts about trying to race and compete at a high level is the effect that such an endeavor has on your relationships. Being on the road you miss parties, you can't attend weddings, and you miss spending time with the people that you love the most. I used to not understand this. It was (and still is) always easy for me to take off on a weekend for a race, and I never understood why friends who were married or in a relationship couldn't do the same. I don't have a significant other at this stage of my life (is bike racing to blame?!), but I do have significant relationships with friends and family that get neglected when I'm hyper focused on trying to reach the best shape possible.
The off-season is a time when I can rekindle those relationships and hang out with the friends that were pretty much strangers for the past six months. If there is anything this year has taught me, it's that those types of bonds aren't a given. They require attention, effort, and focus, just like racing at any level. I don't have that part down yet, but I'm hoping to get better at that balancing act. In short, don't forget about the ones who give up their time for you.
Way back in 2017, I decided to buy a mountain bike again. I had ridden that bike a handful of times and then I jumped into the Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships. My race started off well and I was feeling good in the front group, but it came to a bitter end with two flats before the half way mark of the race (you can read all about it HERE!). After my time off in March, I had exactly one month to get ready for my next shot at the Marathon MTB Title. My coach and I agreed that we wouldn't make the race a priority, in terms of training, but it would be good to do as something different and fun. Secretly though, I wanted to win and I came in with the confidence that this year would be different.
The race started well, and again I was in the front selection, biding my time, waiting to pounce at the right moment. But on that day, I was trying to run before I could crawl, and crawl I did. I let the top 5 ride away on the first lap, fully expecting to ride back to them when they cracked on lap two. Then I started to cramp... badly. Double leg cramps. Come to a screeching halt cramps. By the time I crossed the finish line, I had spent 20 minutes stopped on the side of the trail in the last half of the lap.
Bike racing can be cruel. Journey women and men put so much into the sport only to have their love go unrequited. There were no tears shed on my part. Rather, my hubris was rewarded tenfold with a healthy dose of humility. I assumed that because I had survived the terrors of European racing I would have no problem being at the front of the race. I had little regard for my competitors and the work they put in to be at that high level. It was the most humbling day I've had on the bike and I needed that.
Don't forget to approach training and competition with humility and grace, Tyler.
Expect More of Yourself
I was in the gym yesterday and found myself going through the motions. I was completing the exercises prescribed, but I wasn't really doing anything, ya know? The form was sloppy, the weight was easy... it wasn't until half way through the workout that I stopped myself. "What the hell are you even doing?" I asked introspectively.
If you train half-assed then you should expect half-ass results. That's cliché but if I'm going to capitalize on what I've accomplished in the 2017/18 season, what I learned in Europe, and what I hope to accomplish this upcoming year, putting in half-ass work isn't going to cut it. In that moment, I took a breath, upped the weight and paid more attention to my form.
I can't do anything with other people's expectations of me. But what I can do is expect more from myself and hold myself to a standard that will allow me to reach new heights in my development, not just as an athlete but also as a person. I expect to scare myself, to crash in attempting to find the limit, to dig deeper, ride faster, push more weight, becoming mentally stronger. I expect to be a better teammate, to be a good friend and even better son, to value and appreciate the time that people give to me. I want to read more, to write more, to explore more, laugh more, have an adventure, have two adventures, and do all the little things necessary to be a better person.
If you truly believe that you can achieve your goals, you'll do the things necessary to get there.
The momentum for the upcoming season is building. I'm back on the cyclocross bike, I'm finalizing my racing schedule, and nailing my training so far. Things are coming together and there are some exciting breaks coming over the horizon. But that will have to wait until next time.