Holy cow, it has been two weeks since I’ve gotten my heart rate above a resting beat. And I don’t seem to care.
Since the MN CX State Championships I’ve done nothing. The first week was completely intentional - I was still trying to get rid of a lingering virus I picked up the weekend of Jingle Cross, and was frankly tired after a long CX season.
The second week began with good intentions. I decided I would use the week to ease into yoga and strength training, but never really got beyond a session of each where I focused on Child’s Pose and a couple of ab-sets.
And now it’s been two weeks, the Spouse is out on a run, and I have absolutely no intention of doing anything to combat my tightening jeans and winter blahs.But there is a hint that this attitude may change. After all, I have twelve days off of work (woo-hoo!), my Christmas shopping is done, and the weather outside isn’t all that frightful. I’m not thinking about doing anything drastic, like, today. Maybe tomorrow.
It was bad bad. Really bad.
Minnesota cyclocrossers are a hardy bunch, but the forecast for this weekend’s state championships had many of us wondering if sleeping in might be the better/saner choice. The weather is always a prominent element in the last local race of the year - I’ve raced in deep snow, cold (20s), wind that almost took down the tents, and ice - so maybe we were all just reveling in the drama a bit too much this past week.
But then you are standing at the start line and the referee begins with “It’s negative two degrees, ladies!”
Strangely enough, I wanted to race. I know myself, and I knew if Saturday found me ringing a cowbell on the sidelines dressed in my warmest down jacket that I would regret not jumping on the bike. Sure, I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve said, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t done that,” but they are never as annoying as those times I’m sitting there thinking, “If only I had…”
So, my plan was to race, but race smartly. Time to prepare for a race where the weather was, quite literally, trying to kill me. My race kit was everything I could comfortably get on: leg warmers, knickers, knee-high socks, base layer, heavy Craft winter jacket, and jersey over the top. I went in for total dork-dom with my head gear, opting for my Bern winter commuter (vents closed, thank you very much) and a heavy buff.
And still, it wasn’t enough.
The Spouse’s sage advice to me at the start was to draft whenever possible in the open first portion of the lap (he should know...his race started at -9 degrees!). So during the first lap I stuck on a wheel and still got smacked in the face with the coldest wind I have ever felt. I couldn’t move my lips, and tears that ripped from my eyeballs froze instantly on my cheeks. Unfortunately, that was the warm lap as the field spread out and hiding was no longer an option.
Still, there is a strange clarity that comes to ones thoughts in a ridiculous situation like this. I started to both notice everything and yet still be distanced from the extreme effort I was putting in to just keep the pedals moving. A sample…
Lap 3 - As I headed out with four laps to go I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore...maybe I should just slow down…” until I realized that my season...no, my entire year of racing was now down to just four laps. Just four laps. With a change in perspective I discovered that I had a change in motivation, and wanted to make the most of those four laps.
Lap 4 - What are those three people doing over there on the bike path? Are they taking pictures? Without hats and coats and a propane heater?! Yes, they were taking pictures - a photographer and a couple were taking some sort of engagement shots with the pond as a backdrop. “I totally hope I photo-bomb some of those pictures,” I thought as I sped by.
Lap 5 - Are they still there?! They are! They are still out here taking pictures! Wait...who is more foolish? Those people capturing a moment, or me riding around a frozen circuit six times on a Saturday afternoon?
Then, toward the end of lap 5 I hit an ice patch on a corner and slid out before I could even register that my tire had lost its grip. I was so numb I couldn’t even feel the pain in my left hip and elbow (I could definitely feel and see it a couple of hours later when I saw the impressive 3-inch knot develop just below my hip-bone), and I scrambled to right myself and get my chain back on. This was also the moment where I fully realized that I was possibly in a podium position if I could keep myself together for just one more lap...
Lap 6 - Once more around the pond, but this time no couple. Instead I found myself talking to my rear tire, which appeared to be much softer than before. “Just one more lap,” I pleaded to the tubular, “just hold it together to the finish…”
I thought about my tire all the way around the pond. And up the run-up. And down the technical descent from the woods. And through the final turns. “You’re doing awesome!” yelled random guy from the sidelines, “But I have to tell you: I hate your helmet!” “That’s ok,” I called back, “my head’s warm!” I scrambled through the sand/snow pit for one last time and frantically made my way to the finish.
When everything turned white (sand, snow, frozen grass, people’s faces) I knew I was hyperventilating and just needed some time to calm down, but my attempts to clearly communicate this to the Spouse completely failed. Funny how seeing me stumbling around mumbling “It’s ok...everything’s all white…” as I dropped my bike and fell to my knees made him think something was wrong. Thankfully, it only took about five minutes in a warm car to get my breathing back to normal and the world’s colors righted.
Which left me just enough time to get back for my second place on the podium!
|Trying out the new socks|
Technically, I guess this is a race report. But “race” seems like such a strong word. Less than a week after I wrote “Choosing Not to Race” about making the correct choice to stay off the bike when I was sick, I lined up for a cross race with a virus still very much raging in my lungs.
Am I stupid? Or just a bit touched in the head? One may think so, but I actually went in to Cross for Tots knowing full well that I wasn’t 100% (I would say I was barely 52%). When a virus hits, it takes my body a long time to fight it back. After two weeks of decent days and horrible nights, I was starting to feel in need of a hard workout. I know it doesn’t make much of a difference at this point in the season (one week to go!), but I just couldn’t see going into the last race off of two weeks where most of my biking was limited to my commute.
So I figured, what the heck, why not race Cross for Tots (it’s for the kids!), get a solid zone 5 workout in before states, and try out my new Smartwool knee-high socks?
It was definitely the right decision, especially two laps in when I felt strong on the climbs and smooth through the technical downhill section. This is the third year for this race, and while previous versions have been skewed toward the low-key-training-race it is now officially a cross race with a well designed course, thumping music, great swag and full participation from the cross community.
About halfway through, my decision to race started to lose its rosy glow. As the dirt and leaves attacked my already dry lungs and my cough drop melted to nothing in my mouth, it became more difficult to control my breathing. The hills loomed long, and my legs tired quickly. Wheezing ensued, along with a shift from race-mode to workout-mode.
Still, I did get to try out a new race kit combination. If there is one constant complaint among the women crossers it centers around the pathetic quality of knee and leg warmers during a race. There is nothing worse than feeling a gap growing between the bottom of your skinsuit and the top of your warmer. Rather than thinking about driving your bike, you begin to wonder if/when you will need to hop off and yank the damn thing up. My new long-sleeved skinsuit has exacerbated this problem, as the inseam is pretty short and has absolutely no gripper on the bottom.
Enter the long Smartwool socks. I wanted to see if I could race in the 30s without knee/leg warmers. With the socks, I would expose about 12-inches of skin...would it be too much? Would the comfort benefits of the socks outweigh the discomfort costs of colder legs?
It turns out racing in the mid-30s is totally doable. It was nice not having to think about warmers and the socks stayed beautifully in place. I should also mention that I did this without embrocation, as I hate the stuff. If I wanted to push this look into the low-30s (or even upper-20s), I would need to reconsider my ban on the sticky, smelly junk.
We are getting toward the end of the year, so of course, my thoughts are turning to new starts and resolutions. I'm big on starting fresh, wiping the slate clean. There is just something so optimistic, so hopeful about beginning again. And I get the chance every month with my 4 Simple Goals...
But if I have to be honest, I will admit that I'm just not that good about following through with them. I lay them out in the opening days of the month, rarely look at them again, and never truly evaluate whether or not I've successfully met my goals.
This line of thinking is a bit of a bummer as the year winds down, but luckily my irrepressibly optimistic spirit is already planning to do better in the future. And why not? Maybe this month will be the one I carefully track my progress toward my goals. Where I evaluate my efforts, learn from my mistakes, and become a better me.
My 4 Simple Goals for December: