There’s a time and place where I find my comfort zone and won’t leave it. It’s a rare occurrence, happening for micro-moments of time and generally frequenting my emotional desires less than a few times per year. I feel a bout of preceding nerves as strongly as any other person does, I just have a strange built in predisposition to pursue the feeling rather than shy away from it. I’m always fascinated when experiencing others embedded in their very own version of a secure environment; be it a job, lifestyle, location, or relationship. It’s easy to be judgmental, classifying what I see as lacking initiative for exploration. But really it’s me that’s in the unsettled, "must see the world no matter the consequence" minority, and as long as someone is finding happiness in their choices I have no room to feel there is a better course of action.
Arguably it can me said that racing is my comfort zone and I’m staying within that realm despite the sometimes crazy places it can takes me. It can also be said that my comfort zone IS the unknown and being mobile and regularly in a new place is the construct that makes me feel that degree of well-being.
With all that introspection being taken into consideration, while racing I only feel ready to join a start line when I have all the pieces in place. I consider many of my races to be learning and training so I race a lot and in exchange I don’t expect to be on the ball every single start line. But there is a baseline degree which I want to have as my “I’m ready to go” comfort zone and so far this year I have discovered that flying to races makes me much less excited to be there and that even when you don’t feel that injured, racing with an injury is as physically debilitating as it is mentally.
I didn’t think I was that hurt at Jingle Cross when I T-boned the metal course side barrier while catching a rut off the start sprint. I had a terrible race and was pulled from the course which rarely happens, but with the adrenalin coursing through my veins, I didn’t realize I smashed a rib and it really hurt until hours after the race was over. The following weekend at Sacramento was a friendly more intimate field of riders and featured a course that suited me with a cornering and shifting centric, flowy track featuring punchy ups and downs, fast dismounts, and even a bit of unpredictable technical sections.
Mentally I wasn’t there. I attributed it to once again flying in to the race and not feeling grounded like I do when I drive but the truth came to play when I got to the start line. The feeling is akin to throwing your hands in front of your face when you see a large object hurling through the air towards you. Anyone who’s had an injury knows that feeling of heightened awareness that comes from the fear of needing to move your body in any way that strains whatever hurts. Well in racing you get to those places so fast it doesn’t register so as a defense mechanism your brain takes you into slow motion and tried to put distance between you and anything that can potentially cause you more pain.
Needless to say I didn’t spend much time chasing other racers, I separated, turned some corners, went through the actions and heard a friend mention after that I didn’t look like I was in the race in any aspect but the physical sense. So the weekend was a bust from a results or points view but I made some new friends, saw some new places, spent time with folks I care about, had some beautiful weather, had an errant tree branch fall on me, (seriously how often does that happen) and was able to experience the flavor of a rare west coast race promoter doing a damn good job joining the UCI cyclocross party.
I flew home relieved to know this would be the last time I was on an airplane until after nationals. Home. Sometimes I’m so ready to leave and the trend this year was that I wanted to stay. Despite days of clouds and moisture telling me to head somewhere warmer, it was really nice to finally prep the van, snuggle the cat, and go shop for pumpkins with the roommate while getting ready for the next weekends race, this time just 20 minutes from home.
The Boulder Cup or U.S. Open of Cyclocross is always a highlight in my race calendar. Not only do I get to race at the highest level while basking in the elevation that makes me feel like I’m finally on an even playing field, I get to see all my favorite people and feel the warm blanket of love that comes from hearing encouragement alongside my name yelled from every part of the race course. It’s also a pleasure to finally be able to host the friends that help take care of me all season and the calm that comes from knowing exactly how to get to the race, and that there is food that belongs to you in the refrigerator.
Colorado has that endearing quality of enveloping you in glorious, warm, sun filled weather only to throw the complete opposite at you 24 hours later. Such was the case with the race weekend. The week of dreary days cleared up just in time to welcome travelers to the Centennial state with ample sunshine, glowing fall colors, and glorious warmth. Saturday was a picture-perfect fall day of shorts and t-shirts with the light glowing through the turning tree leaves. That evening the wind blasted down from the mountains allowing winter to set in overnight. We welcomed Sunday with highs in the low 20’s and a fresh blanket of 7 inches of fresh snow.
My Saturday race wasn’t spectacular, I started poorly with my unfortunately becoming familiar cringe at the start line chaos and then spent the whole race chasing my way through the spread of girls. I felt good about the process of it though, for how short a time it takes for one to lose confidence it’s an awful long evolution to rebuild it. Achieving awareness through the calm after the start that I can handle my bike and pedal it well is a strong step towards the rebuilding operation. I finished consistent with how I have been, not quite in the points but still in the money. Worth more than anything extrinsic is the feeling of accomplishment that I indeed worked hard and tried harder to match the echoes of support being shouted out from friends on each side of the course tape.
As the ground was still warm from the day before the course rapidly progressed from powder to slop by the time the final Sunday races were set to go. It was such a relief to feel prepared for the conditions; between tire choice, a place to get warm, reliable folks to help get things set in the pits, and proper clothing. I typically love the mud and it really impacted me to race at Jingle Cross and feel as though I wasn’t enjoying the experience.
I was warm and having fun throughout the day but I became hyper focused on what wouldn’t work, namely shifting and clipping in. The day featured rare and epic cyclocross conditions, standing water in puddles all over the course formed spray that would glue your wheels to the frame if you let it go long enough and variable mud from slop to peanut butter. The temperatures hovered around 21 degrees Fahrenheit for the hour we were racing and plenty of elevation changes and consequent cornering made the envelope for transitioning minimal, a huge challenge when your derailleur is frozen solid from the power washer spray and the ice balls on your feet are as big as your shoes.
In hindsight I should have focused more on my forward and less on my situation, by mid race I figured out that working my cables to the extreme ends of the gear selection would free them up to start moving through the center options. Perhaps a little more de-icer on my shoe bottoms would have helped but it’s more likely I was one of the few that was able to clip in at all, it was just taking more effort than I was used to. I lost much time trying to achieve the usual standards of function when I should have been expending that energy pedaling as fast as I could go in whatever gear I was given by the pit crew regardless of whether I was floating on top of or attached to my pedals.
So ultimately I had very good takeaways even though they left me a few spots lower in the results than the day before. As is usual with circumstances the majority of the adult population would never find themselves in, I finished off the day grinning ear to ear with the exhilaration of the effort, the challenge of finding a comfort level in impossible conditions, digging deep to maximize my ability to perform when you know few things can be predicable, and refusing to give in to thoughts telling you it is way smarter to stay in bed then spend the day outside in that type of weather.
I have to offer up a very special thank you to the Boni family who stepped in to give me the royal treatment by participating in the chaotic dead sprint running race from pit to power washers, power washing in below freezing conditions, bike tuning and deicing every half a lap, all while themselves were being exposed to the elements for the entirety of the day. They also stepped in without hesitation to run the show in the mens race for my out of town friend. I went back to try and assist but they didn’t even need me! For how miserable a job pitting can be and how absolutely crucial it is to a racers ability to carry on on a day such as Sunday, it’s truly amazing to have folks like that in your life.
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