Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Love and Cyclocross

If it don't come easy, you better let it go.
'Cause when it don't come easy, there's no natural flow.
Don't make it hard on your heart, you might be better off alone,
If it don't come easy, you better let it go.

I think that possibly the worst way to follow up a bad race is to come back six days later and race on practically the same course against practically the same field. No opportunity to start fresh there. About five minutes into the Indiana State Cyclocross Championships I found myself falling further into the Spiral of Suck that I had started the weekend before. And since the officials let the thing drag on and on, I had a loooong time to think about that Spiral of Suck before I was finally allowed to finish at 45 minutes.

The thoughts were basically that I was done - mentally and physically. That I had set a goal for myself for the season, to win my category in the OVCX series, and that I had accomplished that goal, with awesome overall race win to cap it off. It had been a very good year, and I had given it everything I had. And despite my desire to support my state's ongoing series, I had no desire to give any more. I thought I could skate by on a half-assed effort for the rest of December, but my competition was not going to let me get away with that. On the second lap, Tim O'Donnell yelled, "What, are you saving it for next year?" (possible nominee for heckle of the year?), and I yelled back, "Why, yes. Yes, I am." Time to go home and get ready for 2012, kids.

The thing is that, while cyclocross is notoriously hard, from the starting line at Apple Cross to the finish line at Kings, going hard had come surprisingly easy. Those first few "Holy crap, I'm leading!" moments laid the foundation for little successes that built every week and forced me to dig a little deeper and learn a little more about racing every time I went out. However, conscious willing of effort was pretty limited. Occasionally, I would have to make the decision to give an extra 10% effort in an acceleration to pass, cover a move, or prevent a pass in a straightaway, but for the most part, success either happened or it didn't. And for the most part this year, success happened for me. It was more about resisting the urge to back off than trying to force myself to go harder.

So during Saturday's very long and very conscious tour of the pain cave, I remembered this old song, and realized a) It had ceased to come easy b) I better let it go. While both love or cyclocross require a certain amount of grit for long term success, sometimes you have to take a break from a dysfunctional relationship.

This is really about allowing myself to enjoy my bike-free Christmas vacation that starts tomorrow and not ending my super-awesome 2011 season on a sour note. I'm pulling the plug one C priority race short of what I planned. In return, I’ll get the chance for a real end-of-season break before my official “start 2012 training date” of January 7th. I'm still inspired by those battling back from a slump like Sierra Siebenlist with her elite women's state championship this weekend, and the John Gatch in The Best Bike Blog Ever's awesome "Stations of the Cross" post. I'm putting it on the record now that I fully intend to follow up my Cat 4 OVCX championship with another one in Cat 3 next season, so if things start to go sideways and I start bitching about being "burned out" in mid-October, you all have my full permission to slap me, tell me to HTFU, and play this song.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

De Cross Gaat Door (The Cross Goes On)

The cross always goes by from September to around Valentine's Day...
Though it is so cold, this is where you really love
No, you can't miss this ever again

Yeah, I know. You've already seen this and thought, "Belgian country music video about cyclocross? Hilarious. Moving on..." But me, being well, me, I had to obsess over free online translations of the lyrics. Despite the fact that the grammar is really funky and there's no real consensus on whether the 'cross goes on, by, or through, you know that Miss Tatyana Storm may be onto something, cheesy as it may be. Don't tell me that imagery of multi-colored tents, the "pretty pain" of the first hill, or the smell of "hot oil" in the air doesn't bring a smile to your face. In regard to the "hot oil", I'm just assuming that like the Eskimos and their snow, that Belgians have eighteen different words for "embrocation" that our feeble English language just can't express.

Anyway, "the cross goes on" is a good way to express my feelings this past weekend. Coming off the high of my OVCX championship, I tried to get myself bundled up and pumped up enough to have a good race the ICX Backyard Cross, but it just didn't happen. I'd kind of made peace with the fact that I wouldn't be dragging myself up to the front the ICX women's "fancy 4's", and was okay finishing things out floating in the middle like I had been doing. Unfortunately, I knew that Catherine Hollibaugh was coming off of a huge breakthrough race at the OVCX finale, and was probably less willing to settle for her current place in the cyclostrata than I was. Numb hands and feet and a slow initial pace for the race kind of did me in. I was passed by both Catherine and another girl, and I slipped into the "spiral of suck" before I could really get myself together. Yeah, I sucked, bad. However, I was probably due for one of those, and perhaps it will be the kick in the pants I need to get through the last two races.

The other thing goes on is the end of season party. We had to have a post-race party in honor of the Scotch we won at the OVCX finale party. That part was definitely more fun than the race. Of course, we probably have to have a state championships party this coming weekend and of course an ICX finale party, which just happens to be on New Year's Eve. Not that I'm complaining. I'm totally going to miss my 'cross friends over the winter. Each race is starting to feel a little like the last day of camp.

You know what else goes on? Cyclocross friendships. Awwwwwwww. I'm now cheesier than that video.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Cup Runneth Over

All I do is win, win, win, no matter what,
Got [drinking vessels] on my mind, I can never get enough
And when I ride it 'cross the line, I put at least one hand up.

Ask you what you laughing at, represent that mud life
Dirty money, bitch, you better get your mud right

Okay, okay, I'm getting a little full of myself, but Sunday was a good day. I guess I made the right decision regarding cat up vs. have one last good race as a 4, because I had one last *great* race as a 4. I'm also wondering about the power of blogging my intentions. When I wrote that I wanted to get a top 3 overall, it happened the very next weekend at Gun Club. When I wanted to win, thought I could win, and knew conditions would be damn near perfect for me to win at Lexington but was afraid to publicly announce it, I didn't win. When I finally allowed myself to say it, it happened.

Anyway, the OVCX finale race was more sticky than sloshy, which is different than the muddy conditions where I have excelled in the past. However, I got a good start and made the turn out of the first bog in the lead. I kept it through the half-lap prologue until we had to run up the hill to the finish line and Karin Reed beat me to the top. She got a little gap, but then I started gaining again, and passed her when she had to run the first time up the "camel hump" and I was able to ride. SRAM may be all about pushing their top-end Red group, but there's something to be said for a low-end Apex derailleur that allows you to run an 11-32 cassette on a hilly and sticky course.

I held the lead until the next time through the finish, but Karin came back up even with me as we crested the hill. I jumped back on my bike and dove for the inside of the turn, shutting the door and maintaining my lead. Then I hammered to keep it. By the time I came around to the stairs again, Adam told me that I had over 30 seconds, but a glance at my watch indicated that I would still have one more full lap to go. My mind started asking me how I could screw it up, like it is wont to do in such situations, but I told it that I wasn't going to screw up this time. So I didn't. I rode hard for another lap, and as I made next-to-last turn of the course, I glanced over and saw that I had a sand pit and 150 meters of sloggy hill between myself and Karin. I let up for a just a couple of pedal strokes on the downhill before the finishing straight, then jumped off, shouldered my bike, and ran with all my might to patch of firm grass before the finish line. At that point, my lead was secure, so even though it would have been faster to keep running, I stopped, remounted, and rode over the line for my first win.

The Heckle Off and the series awards party were a ton of fun. I wasn't feeling hopeful for the Shamrock Cycles team to take the Heckle Off victory, because practically everyone got recruited to pit as conditions continued to deteriorate throughout the day. Luckily, the winner was determined by audience yelling at the awards ceremony, and even if we spent more time during the last two races swapping and washing bikes than we acting like hooligans, we are really good at yelling. We yelled hard, and claimed the bottle of Scotch and case of Little Kings. For some reason, Will handed me the bottle of Scotch before I got up on the podium for the series championship, so my overly dramatic victory picture is kind of funny.

I'm sad that the OVCX series is over, but I'm happy with the way it ended. I'm going to miss everyone through the long winter months of training before next season, but we still have a few ICX races left and apparently, a bottle of Scotch to drink. I'm looking forward to the new adventures of road racing and giving the 100 mile mountain bike race another go. Regardless, I still expect there will be many times in the next few months where I look at the newly stamped "CX:03" on my racing license and think, "Is it September yet?"

Keep hustling (it ain't over me, yeah, it ain't over for me)
Keep flowing (Ima step up my game and get what's comin' for me)