No, this is not a blog post about sex. Sorry. ;)
I can hardly believe how quickly this winter has gone by. I have spent the majority of it extremely focused on my shoulder rehab. I am determined to be strong for the racing season, and so far everything has gone well.
I did my first field test on the bike a couple of weeks ago. This is when reality set in. My numbers were not anywhere near what they were at this time last season and for the first time in awhile I felt my limitations again. Missing nearly six months of training has taken its toll. I have been active the entire time I have been injured and recovering from surgery, but it isn't the same as "training."
My initial reaction was to freak out and call my coach and tell her I need to start training thirty hours per week to whip myself into shape and get my fitness back to where it needs to be. Alison is used to fielding the occasional frantic phone call from me over the last five years. But I have fortunately come to a place in my athletic career, thanks to experience and wonderful mentors, where I am thinking more like a marathon racer than a sprinter. This was an incredibly valuable lesson I learned just last season in my racing, and it works on both a micro and macro scale.
Last season, I had the opportunity to work with a really sharp sports psychologist named Ben Roberts. I'm pretty much convinced Ben is a genius. I've been racing for six years now, and have studied quite a bit of sports psychology both for myself and for working with my clients. Ben was able to make things click for me about the mental side of cycling that I'd heard before but never really gotten.
The lesson that has stuck with me the most, and made a huge difference in my racing, was what Ben called "managing arousal level." When you are in a race, it is really easy to "burn matches," or waste energy, when your adrenaline is flowing and your physical and mental arousal is high, and you make silly decisions.
For example: At the Whiskey 50 last year, I came out of the singletrack and onto the road and realized that there were three girls maybe a hundred yards in front of me going up a steep climb. Immediately my adrenaline surged, and I jumped out of the saddle and pushed myself hard to get in front of them. But I burned a valuable match doing that, and I couldn't hold the pace. It wasn't long before they were cruising right by me as I went backwards. Shit!!!
What Ben taught me was that I didn't really need to burn that match and waste that energy. If I was smart and used my brain, instead of letting my adrenaline get the best of me, I could save energy and pass the riders. It was evident that I was catching them already, at the pace I was already going. Was it worth surging? Was the race about to end? Was the road about to narrow back down into singletrack and was this my only chance to pass these riders?
The answer was no, and I knew it. I had done my homework ahead of time; I was prepared and knew the course. I knew that I had at least another 20 minutes to ride on the road. There was no reason to surge, and as I was catching them already at my current pace, I could simply keep motoring along and I would easily pass them before the next singletrack without wasting energy. But upon seeing the riders, my arousal level spiked, my adrenaline got the best of me, and I burned that valuable match. If you burn too many unnecessary matches in a long race, your box will eventually be empty and you won't have the matches left to burn when it counts.
This was not an isolated incident for me. I can count on all my fingers and toes the times in races when I have let high arousal get the better of me and burned that valuable match when it was unnecessary. Something Ben said in that particular sports psych session clicked for me, and it has changed my performance immensely. Now, when I feel my adrenaline surge due to something outside of me- another rider, something I see during a race, etc; I stop my racing thoughts, breathe, and analyze the situation; making a conscious choice whether or not to burn that valuable match. Sometimes it's necessary and worth it. Other times it's not.
Fast forward to my recent field test. Realizing that I was behind in the "race" to be ready for my season, my arousal level spikes, and my natural tendency is to "surge" to catch up as quickly as possible. But now, I know better. I know that I need to stay consistent, trust the process; trust myself and my coach, and trust that it will all come together when I am ready. I know that I need to commit to the process and not screw the whole thing up now by freaking out because I am a little behind where I was last year.
I know I need to remember that my last six months have been consumed with shoulder rehab, that it has been my priority and an important part of my return to full strength, and that it will be a little later before I am in top form this season. I know that it will be a huge challenge for me to remember that in my early races when people ride away from me and I am tempted to burn that match; but if I can stay true to my own program, it will pay off in the long run. My season, like the races themselves, is a marathon- not a sprint.