Friday, December 16, 2011

"It's Just Stupid Bike Racing...."

Why do I do it? Why do hundreds of others do it too? We spend hundreds of hours training, thousands of miles traveling, and thousands of dollars on equipment each year to race bikes. My level of talent is so mediocre & my number of podium results so few that the question may seem very relevant; as if one would be delusional to pursue a sport with such a meager pay back.

This week I read three articles by bike racers about their perspective on their own racing. Two of them by people I know, Justine Lindine & Bill Strickland, one by a guy I can sympathize with. All three were worth reading as  reflections on the personal madness that is amateur bike racing. Two also quote Adam Myerson in his interview after Sterling CX this year, "Its just stupid bike racing, but it means everything."

In truth its much easier to be a cyclist than a bike racer. I live in a place where great cycling abounds. I ride every week in the summer with dozens of good cyclists. Most of these cyclists don't race any more, or never did. So they don't train systematically, they don't diet, they don't fixate on their performance limiters, they don't strategize to find their opportunities for victory. They just ride; sometimes easy, sometimes hard, sometimes more miles than I do. And that's great for them, truly, but its not racing.

Racing is different. Racing requires a focus, discipline, perhaps even fixation most cycling does not. Each week and each day of a racers season is shaped by activities that drive toward the next race. Whether it is sleep or nutrition or training or recovery, some part of the day is devoted to preparing to race. The bike racers life becomes a lifestyle with a central goal of peak personal performance.  This may be a healthy obsession, but it is still an obsession.

Every year I notice that a few people, who used to race with me, drop out of the sport. They just stop showing up. Perhaps they get injured, perhaps they get frustrated with their results, perhaps life gets in the way of training, perhaps they loose the passion. Yet without racing, there is no reason to pursue the lifestyle, and there in no lessons to be learned about ones own discipline, or toughness, or focus, or strength, or humility, or capacity for improvement. These lessons are the pay off for the sacrifices that a bike racer's lifestyle demands. If I do not race, I will not wring out of myself all that I have within me, physically & emotionally; if only to see exactly what I am at my core.

Bike races are not like life, they are life. Most times a stupid bike race is the most concentrated, distilled, intense part of my life. Bike racing draws from me a passion and discipline that I hope I will infuse into the rest of my life. That is for me its great worth.
"It's just stupid bike racing, but it means everything".

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Way of the Cyclocross: A CX racers week in season

When road racers say that they "live like monks" they mean depriving themselves of wine, partying, or other pleasures. Cyclocross racers truly live like monks; they drink beer, brutally scourge themselves, and follow an order to their week similar to an abbot's rule of life. Each week during the season has the same pattern of days. Each action leads to the next race and back again.

Monday: Bike repair and cleaning. What damage have you done to your machines this weekend? Do you need to finish getting the mud off of everything? Are some parts in need of replacement? Did you flat a tire? Does your skinsuit still have dirt stains on it? Better get to scrubbing between searching the internet for pictures of yourself from last weekend.

Tuesday: Confession, where did I fall last weekend? If I raced both days on the weekend, I'm probably not ready for hard efforts yet. My body likely needs some more rest. I might even groan just getting on the bike. Extra stretching in the morning, or better yet, a massage is a nice cure for the lingering aches. Mind repair requires banishing the demons of doubt, so drilling the skills that were weak on the weekend. Whatever elements gave me the most difficulty during the last races are the skills to practice on Tuesday.

Wednesday: Penance, the flesh is weak. This is the day for atonement. This is the time for self flagellation. No other way to get stronger but to do intervals. My lungs burn, my legs ache, my eyeballs scream by the end of the ride if I am doing it right. The only chance to get faster is to push myself harder in training than I did in my prior races.

Thursday: Preparation, better too early than too late. I know that Friday will be a crammed day between work, life, and a race prep ride. Rather than go nuts trying to get everything done on Friday, I find it easier to begin packing for the weekend on Thursday night. Since I typically only do a short ride, I have an extra hour to put together my clothing & basic gear for the race weekend ahead. I can also do another check of the bikes so any last minute repairs can be done on Friday.

Friday: Am I ready? Since my race start is usually before noon, and since I frequently drive 2 hours to the venue, all my preparation must be done by 7 p.m. on Friday. By that time I need to be eating dinner so I can get to bed by 9. The worst day to deprive yourself of sleep is the day before a race. If I line up my day just right I can get a good prep ride done at noon, pack the car after work, then make dinner & relax. If not, I spend hours after dinner stressing out over all the things to be packed up before dawn.

Saturday-Sunday: Race day. Everything goes by routine if I've lined myself up right. Arrive, put together bikes, ride the course, register, hot laps, dress, final warm up, staging, RACE!, cool down, pack up.

Rinse, rest, repeat.

Sunday Night: Recovery. If I've raced to my limit, this is couch time, since I have nothing left. Maybe I can put together a blog post, or an email. Maybe I'll just go to bed. Hopefully I'm satisfied with the effort I've made. If not, there's always next week.