Processing the events leading up to my crash and resultant injury has been- well, a process. At first I had no regrets. I am used to leaving everything out on the course when I race, and am accustomed to putting myself deep into the pain cave. I am not afraid to suffer. Phrases like “if you’re not crashing, you’re not trying hard enough” and “always give 100%” and “live each day/race each race like it’s your last” floated through my head. All clichés that we have all heard, from friends/fellow racers/magazines/our own heads, and sure, they sound great- until they become reality.
Then, all of the sudden, the brain comes to a screeching halt. “Race each race/live each day like it’s my last?” Why in the hell would I want to do that?! If I was a backcountry skier and I thought like that, I’d be dead, buried six feet under in an avalanche. I love bike racing. I feel more alive racing my bike than anyplace else I have ever known. I am finally racing at the professional level, which is something I worked hard for, for years. Why would I want ANY race to be my last? After many conversations with my coach, my boyfriend, trusted friends, and myself, the lesson finally sunk in. Yes, I am a strong bike racer and especially a strong climber. Yes, I know how to suffer. Good for me. None of it matters if I’m not smart about it.
When I coach, or teach physical therapy clients in the clinic, many of whom are athletes as well, I coach them on making good decisions when dealing with an injury. I remind them that longevity is important; that they have to lift up their eyes and look past the short-term inconveniences of holding back or laying off of an activity, and into the future of having a fully functional, strong body again. Yes, it sucks when you are the 18 year old senior star of the track team and you have to miss an important meet tomorrow due to an injury that you might be able to push through for a day, but is it worth it just for one day, for one race? Do you want to run beyond this race? Then you have to take all factors into account and make good decisions.
I teach people this concept every single day. It is second-nature to me. Yet, when faced with the same decision myself, as an athlete instead of a coach and healthcare provider, I made the same mistake. I put it all on the line for one race- yes, it was national championships, but I was not in contention for a podium spot- and I risked my entire racing career, my career as a physical therapist, my ability to pay rent and put food on the table, and my credibility with those who depend on me, look up to me, and trust my advice. I risked all of that for one race.
No spot in a race; be it eightieth, tenth, or first place, is worth risking it all for. I want to be a bike racer for a very long time. Not for one day. And to do that, I need to do my best to make good decisions that will lead to my longevity in the sport. Yes, crashes happen in bike racing when you are pushing yourself to your limit. Injuries happen. It is part of the game. But there is a difference between crashing because you screw up on the bike and crashing because of a mindless bad decision. Being smart, knowing when it isn’t worth it and when to dial it back, just a little, is more important than just being strong and willing to suffer.
Because of this experience, I know that there is no excuse for not practicing every option for getting over and around an obstacle so I know exactly how much time and energy will be spent on each one. I need to micromanage my terrain- like one would do to mitigate avalanche risk while skiing in the backcountry. Now, I know that if my strength is climbing, great- I still need to know the course and think ahead: If I know there is a technical section coming, I cannot pin myself so hard on the climb that I cannot be focused and calculated through the rocks and trees. Can I still dig so deep on a climb that my eyeballs turn blue? Sure, but not when there is technical terrain ahead that will take a great deal of focus. I will need time to recover.
Above all, I now understand the need to be mindful of every decision that I make in a race, or in life- however small it may seem, or however driven and ambitious I may be. No decision lives in a vacuum. Everything has consequences. Are they consequences I can live with? Are they going to lead to my returning to race another day? How can I continue to race hard and push my limits, but not go over the line so that I seriously injure myself? All questions that I will have to answer in time, in every moment, in every race. I firmly stand by the idea “Always do your best.” Sometimes, however, your “best” does not always mean your hardest. Sometimes, it means your smartest.
I have come to understand, very personally, the difference between living for the moment and living in the moment. Living in the moment is all about being present and having an appreciation for what is happening right now. Living for the moment can potentially lead to making bad decisions that are only based on instant gratification. "Of course," one might say. Duh, this should be obvious. And it is- until we are faced with a stressful situation, and we forget. And it doesn't even have to be negative stress. It can certainly be fear, pressure, insecurity- but it can also be immense excitement, happiness, or a seemingly great opportunity that can cloud judgment and cause us to make emotionally based, short sighted decisions.
Imagine standing at the top of a mountain after a long backcountry approach, on skis or a board, being tempted by beautiful fluffy powder below. The excitement builds with the whoops and hollers of your buddies, and it is easy to mindlessly forget that you could be potentially staring straight into the mouth of the avalanche dragon, and that it is of the utmost importance to make rational decisions. In this situation, you could truly be looking at life or death. Other situations in life may not be this extreme, but they are impactful nonetheless. Live in the moment, appreciate life- absolutely. But keep your head on. In the heat of the moment we cannot forget the bigger perspective, in sport and in life.
So what now? I struggled with the decision about surgery for weeks. No, I don’t want to have shoulder surgery. Yes, it’s going to suck for “a long time.” But in the big picture, it’s really not a long time. It is half of one year- a full year at most until I am back to full strength. At the end of the day, if I want to continue to be an endurance racer, and a physical therapist, the best decision is for me to have the surgery, fix the problem, and focus my energy on healing.
I can’t change the decisions I have made in the past- in racing, or in life. What’s done is done, for better or for worse, and I have to put it behind me. I am human, and I make mistakes just like everyone else. What is important is that I learn from it going forward. I can make smart, mindful decisions about my life, my health, and my body- starting now. It is never too late.
"It's almost over."
Famous last words. I let my focus slip from the task at hand to the approaching finish of the race. As I flew down the final straightaway through the woods a thought flashed through my head like a flashing red beacon in the dark night: “the rock drop.” In my pinned, exhausted state I hadn’t thought through what I was going to do on my final time over the technical feature. I glanced quickly up the hill and behind me. Again, I could see a rider, but couldn’t tell the gender.
I thought fast. I had never taken the go-around. I knew it was slower, but I didn’t know how much. It had never occurred to me to practice it because it had never occurred to me that I wouldn’t take the drop. And in that moment, with my entire body shaking and my energy levels in the red, I had the split-second thought that maybe it wasn’t a good idea- but I pushed it out of my mind as I rounded the final corner and my two second clock started ticking.
I spotted the entrance line. I zeroed in on it, focused… and missed. The next thing I knew I was flying through the air and smashing down violently on the big sharp rocks. My left shoulder came out of its socket and all I could feel was rock on bone as the right side of my pelvis took most of the impact. Without thinking, I got up, relocated my shoulder back into place, somehow found my bike, got back on, and finished the race. “Shit! I’m okay! That was crazy!” That thought lasted about three minutes into my cooldown, and I pedaled straight over to the paramedics as the searing pain in my right hip and abdomen shot through me like an arrow and my right side of my abdomen swelled up like I had suddenly become quite pregnant. I knew the consequences of tearing up your guts on rocks and I spent the next few hours hanging out with the medics getting poked, prodded, and squeezed with a blood pressure cuff as I waited out the possibility of internal abdominal bleeding.
When it seemed likely that I was in the clear for major internal damage, I slowly returned to the condo. I could barely move and I was lucky that I had my extremely patient boyfriend there to help with incredibly complex tasks like walking up stairs, getting out of my race kit and into the horizontal position. The next day, when I was sure that my injuries to my hip and pelvic area were just major soft tissue and bone bruising, I decided to go for an easy walk. It was only then that I realized that the painful clunking and shifting of my left shoulder, post-dislocation, was going to become the real problem.
The physical therapist side of me kicked in and I realized that while the pelvic injuries would fade with time, the shoulder injury might be worse than I had anticipated. The gravity of my situation set in and I would spend the next few days and weeks evaluating what went wrong, thinking about options, and accepting my consequences. I will go into surgery on October 2nd to repair my torn shoulder. It will be a long, slow, and painful rehabilitation- six weeks in a sling and months before I can get back on a bike- but I am lucky. It is the off-season now, and I will be able to race again in the spring. It could be much worse.
My first national championship race as a pro: USA Marathon Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho. I had ridden this course before and was looking forward to returning. The course was made up of one short lap and two big laps, bringing the total in at just less than fifty miles. The entire first hour-ish was a climb, first dirt road and then singletrack. The second half-hour was a ripping fast descent, then a 10-minute dirt road climb, then a 20-minute final descent to the line.
There was one technical section, the “rock drop” as it was referred to, which we would pass through three times over the course of the race near the finish area. There was also a go-around which was slower, but smoother. I had preridden the drop and it had a tricky entrance but otherwise wasn’t too bad. You come into it from a corner, have no view of the bottom section of the feature, and have about two seconds to set up before diving in. There is one clear line down the center, and the rest is pretty heinous. No problem, set up straight into that line and the rest is cake.
The short lap went by in a fury of dust and elbows and handlebars and tires. Then we were out to the long laps of the course. My strength is climbing, and I gradually pulled away from the small group I had been working with on the road section and got in front before the singletrack. I climbed steadily and my breathing was even. I was riding hard, but not pushing. I was eating and drinking well. I knew I had a long race ahead of me. When I neared the top of the first climb, I saw the 5th, 6th, and 7th place women crest the hill. I was within less than a minute of them.
The descent lost me some time and I got passed by a few riders. Although I have often used descending skills to my advantage in road racing and as an amateur mountain bike racer, and I have done well in super downhill races, it is safe to say my downhill skills are not quite on par with that of national-level professional riders. Especially not on long, steep descents with fast, tight corners- they are my biggest weakness, and there was no lack of them on this course. I am much more comfortable on technical rock lines, thanks to all my Front Range riding. So, getting passed was no shock to me. I am getting better, but these marathon racing women are no joke. They are fast both uphill and down. I knew if I was going to gain time, I was going to have to capitalize on my climbing strengths.
We got off the last descent and started round two. I dug deep and took some time off the long climb, steadily passing some riders again. When I hit the descent I was determined not to lose my spot, but at this point the top riders of the Cat 1 men’s pack hit us from behind. All of these guys were gunning for a podium spot and a chance at earning their pro card. They were very fast descenders and it resulted in me having to pull over and stop frequently to let them by. I didn’t mind; they were gunning for a top spot and I was not, but I definitely lost momentum and I let it get inside my head. I started riding more tentatively.
At the bottom of the long descent, right before the final 10 minute climb, a woman shot by me. Before I knew what was happening I lost my head, and the brains went right with it. My ultra-competitive and driven side rushed out from one of the dark corners somewhere inside me and I buried myself on the climb like I had never done before. I am not sure where this burst of energy came from after 3.5 hours of hard racing, but I was frustrated from the descent, and now I had this carrot in front of me and nothing but open road. I put my head down and went. I flew past the woman, and kept on going. I wanted to pour out every ounce of strength and energy left in my body and leave it all on the course.
I hit the top of the climb, and glancing back I could just barely see the woman around the last corner. I was in the red, and my eyes were nearly crossing. I am not sure how I was still pedaling. I dropped into the final descent thinking “ride smooth, hold it together, don’t lose ground.” I tried to focus and flow, and the trail felt like water. The bike moved effortlessly underneath me, we felt like one, and it was perfect. I had no idea if the other woman was catching up to me or not; I saw riders floating in and out of the trees above and below me, but I was well mixed in with the cat 1 men by that point and I was unsure if the shadow riders were male or female. It was all mixed up in my head. And I was almost done. It was almost over...
Every day, I get questions from clients, athletes, and friends about what I eat. I try to describe it, and usually I end up scribbling notes on paper or sending emails or texts. So, I figured I'd write about it here.
Food has always been very important to me. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, surrounded by fresh, local sources of protein, fruits, and vegetables. I also grew up an athlete, with two very active parents who ran, biked, swam, rode horses, and nordic skied. Eating well enough to nourish my constant level of activity has been ingrained in me from a young age.
When I started bike racing seriously it became even more important for me to have good nutrition; as my training load and intensity increased so did my need for calories that would sustain me. In the past year I have also started to have a growing awareness of my often wasteful and high-impact lifestyle. It was hard to look myself in the eye and admit that my footprint on the planet was giant, but it was true. I had been moving through life like a big sleepwalking oaf, and I wanted to learn how to tread more lightly through my environment. Then, there was the less important but still annoying frustration of the conversation my boyfriend and I would have nearly every afternoon: "What should we have for dinner tonight?" "I don't know, what do we have at home?" "Not sure, I'll stop at the store and grab some stuff."
And so continued the cycle of finishing hard workouts or races without sufficient recovery food and having to grab something from an expensive Boulder cafe; wasting time on random grocery shopping nearly every night of the week, wasting money on buying things we didn't really need or use, and wasting resources on food we would end up throwing away because it went bad, or food that would sit in the freezer or on the shelf because we couldn't remember what use we had bought it for.
So when D came home from a month-long ski expedition in May and suggested we create a meal plan, that would serve the purposes of omitting the daily annoyances; eliminating the waste we created in time, money, and resources; allowing us to eat a high percentage of local, seasonal foods; and nourishing us as athletes with specific needs for energy and recovery, I was all for it.
We decided to create a plan for each season, three-months at a time, and rotate through a menu each week. We came up with a grocery list for the beginning of every 90 day period with staples such as rice, oats, toilet paper, etc; and then a weekly list with fresh local produce and meat. The idea is that eventually, when we have the means, we will be able to grow a majority of our own food. Knowing exactly how many red peppers and how many cilantro bunches we consume in a year will be helpful for knowing what we can sustainably grow.
The meal plan takes awhile to create, but it is well worth it for the savings and ease it creates in the long run. We create the meals around both our training schedules; since we already know which days we will have higher caloric needs, and also around our life schedules- for example, the days that I have to be at the clinic at 7 am, I prepare muesli the night before, and all I have to do is throw it in the microwave for 2 minutes in the morning. The days that we have more time, we may like to make something that may take a little longer. The meals are also chosen for their ease of making away from home; even camping. We both spend a lot of time on the road; D for skiing and me for bike racing, and it is important to us that we make an effort to eat as sustainably on the road as we do at home.
From the picture, you can see that we have six choices for breakfasts over the fifteen days. Some of the meals we will eat 3-4x, some once or twice. For dinners, most nights we will eat the same meal every week. A couple of the days, we choose one thing or the other with a similar "theme;" for example, either Mongolian Beef or Beef Curry. Similar ingredients, different flavors. For lunches, we either eat leftovers if there are any, or sandwiches. For training and recovery food, we eat portable creations that we make out of The Feed Zone book, by Allen Lim and Biju Thomas, and we factor those in to our weekly ingredient lists. Many of our breakfast and dinner meals are also straight out of this book. Once a week, we go out on a date or out for dinner with friends.
The biggest three responses I get when I talk to people about how I eat are: sounds boring, sounds too expensive, sounds too time-consuming. Yet, so many people express to me their desire to have a happier, more healthy lifestyle. Like it or not, nutrition is a huge part of that. I too wondered if it would get boring to eat the same meals for three months. It really didn't. The meals we chose were so delicious, we looked forward to eating them each week. And the savings in money and time, and reduction in stress and waste, has been well worth it.
Many people think it sounds prohibitively expensive to eat good quality food all of the time. I have found that it really isn't. The expensive part of eating, for me, turned out to be all the extraneous stuff I was buying because my shopping had no structure, and all the times I had to buy breakfast, coffee, or lunch out because I wasn't prepared. If we decide we want to cut additional costs, we can look at specifics and revise as necessary- substituting tofu or eggs for beef, for example, or cutting out or substituting an expensive ingredient for a less expensive one.
Another thing I hear often from people is that they don't have time to cook healthy, and so they are forced to eat take-out or tv dinners. The beauty of this meal plan is that it is designed around our schedules- if we are working or training late, we make something very simple. And there is no time wasted in the guesswork of what we will be eating. The recipes are right there, they are simple, quite fast, and nutritious. Time spent initially, in creating this and working out the kinks, has been heaps of time saved over the long term.
Everyone loves to use kids as an excuse, but kids are the worst excuse ever for eating poorly. If you are raising children, shouldn't it be even more important to create a healthy, sustainable way of eating to nourish them when they are young and teach them good habits for the future? Maybe healthy, sustainable eating with a family doesn't look the same as it might without kids, but it is still important. (Disclaimer- I don't have kids, so I can't even pretend to know what it takes to raise one. But I don't think I'm way off base by stating that it is possible to eat healthy with kids. I know plenty of people who do it.)
I am not saying all this because I think my way is better or that I am a better person than those who do nutrition differently. Not at all. It's a work in progress, and it's certainly not perfect. I only share it because it's been working for me, and it's proving to me that it is possible to eat well, despite a very full life, and not spend a ton of time and money. I would love to hear others' ideas. A healthy lifestyle shouldn't be a distant dream. If our minds are open to possibilities and creativity, and we are willing to do some work up front, it can absolutely be a reality.
“There is strong shadow where there is much light.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As I sit at my tiny desk in my tiny studio writing these words, my previous “home” of Boulder, Colorado is washing away. They are in the throes of a hundred-year flood; something unthinkable in this arid state. In a matter of days, however, the clouds will finally dry up, and what remains of the once vibrant and energetic city will be left crumpled on the ground, battered but not broken. It will realize it still has some life left deep inside, and that the small but insistent flame that burns at the heart of the community has not been drowned. It will be faced with the task of slowly getting up, brushing itself off, pulling itself up by the bootstraps, and beginning the long process of rebuilding.
I started this website early last winter with the intention of it being a place to share stories and insights into my world as a rookie professional bike racer. Well, my season has come and gone, and hardly a word has been written. For this, I apologize. It passed like a tornado, in a whirlwind of events and emotions. It could best be described like this: intense, beautiful, terrifying, wonderful, heart-wrenching, inspiring, demoralizing, humbling, gratifying, and brutal. And this wasn't even the racing itself. The racing was the “easy” part.
Now, I’m not saying that the step up into pro racing from the amateur ranks was easy- not by any means. But the story and the struggle of the past season is in the end, surprisingly, not really about the racing. The reality of throwing my entire being into chasing this dream for the past two years, the hard and valuable lessons it has taught me about the world, my place in it, and most importantly about myself, has challenged me in every way I could possibly imagine. It has taken every ounce of physical, mental, and emotional fortitude I possessed in my body, mind, and soul- and then some.
And here I am at the end. My season started slowly, struggling through mononucleosis which put me flat on my back for two months from mid-February through mid-April, and ended abruptly, with a violent crash at the national championship race in July that left me with severe bruising of my pelvis and abdomen, and a badly torn left shoulder. I finally had to accept that for once my resilient spirit could not push my broken body past its limits any more.
So here I sit, feeling rather disheveled and wrung-out after the storm, looking around at the pieces of my whirlwind season. It was a tough one, for sure. But there were certainly some highlights. I had some great racing in May and June, an unanticipated surprise in the form of my first podium finish in a professional field, and one race with a chance meeting that quite unexpectedly altered the course of my life as I jumped on an opportunity that, while scary as big changes often are, was full of possibility and wonder.
I uprooted my comfortable and happy life in Nederland to move further into the mountains to Crested Butte, to a new adventure full of the unknown, but with opportunities in life, career and racing too tantalizing to pass up. I have been here for a month and I won’t lie- it hasn't been easy. It’s been a struggle, at times seeming so hard and insurmountable and at times so wonderful and inspiring. I am happy, but I am broke- financially and physically. I feel like I have lived enough highs and lows in the past season to last me a lifetime. I have some new scars, but I also have some great stories. I have learned some important lessons that I will share in the coming months. It is time to rest.
In three weeks, I will go into surgery to repair my torn shoulder. I am nervous, but determined. As a physical therapist, I know that I have a long road ahead of me. As an athlete, I know that my biggest challenges will be mental. I will be nearly incapacitated for six weeks, and extremely limited for the better part of three months. It will be hard to stay focused and not lose my marbles. I also have the best surgical and rehabilitation team in the world, a wonderful coach, great sponsors, an extremely supportive boyfriend, friends, and family, and a very cute and cuddly dog who never fails to make me laugh. And, of course, a sea of inspiring mountains and trails right out my door. I have no doubt that with a lot of hard work and discipline my strength will return, and I will be racing at full capacity again in the spring.
Though I will be resting my body over the coming months, I will certainly not be resting my mind. The valuable lessons I have learned over the course of this season will not go to waste. I have learned the importance of diligence, patience, foresight, longevity, self-restraint, prioritization, and balance. Mental toughness has always been one of my strengths. I am stubborn and I don’t like to quit, and I have always had the ability to push through difficulties. Now, out of the storm of this past season, I am also slowly and steadily building mental acuity. To me, this is the ability to be fully present and aware, and to make intelligent decisions in high-stress and high-risk situations. Being tough is not always the answer. Sometimes being smart is better. I didn't have awareness of it before, but there is a huge difference between these two things. Having heaps of the former and not the latter can land you in the operating room.
In contemplating my rebuilding process, I have also been seriously questioning my motivations. Why do I put myself through all of this? If I quit racing my bike right now, I could likely forgo shoulder surgery. I can do most normal daily activities. I just cannot race my bike for four plus hours or ride over very technical terrain. I cannot lift my bike over my head or onto my back. But otherwise I can live a pretty normal life. So… why?
A couple of weeks ago, sitting alone, high on a mountain outside of Durango with my bike, not wanting to ride but not wanting to go home, the wind whipping violently and thunder rumbling all around me, I got my answer. Without bike racing, I would not be the person that I am. And I will certainly not ever be the person I aspire to be. It is not the racing itself that inspires me to keep going. It is the virtues that I have built, and continue to build, through the pursuit of personal challenge.
The patience, discipline, tenacity, resourcefulness, resilience, acuity, intention, and balance in my life would not, and will not, come without a price. I have to explore and experience the world, and myself. The bike is simply my preferred method of travel, and racing is my preferred method of challenge. The human desire to better one’s self is certainly not limited to professional athletes. This is something that we all share, and something that can make us more connected as humans if we encourage this growth in each other. It is the challenge, the connection, and the learning that inspires me. This is why I ride, and this is why I race.
I have survived the storm. It is time to rebuild.