Monday, June 15, 2015

Never in the Mix

I don't wanna talk if it makes you feel sad, 
And I understand you've come to shake my hand 
I apologize if it makes you feel bad 
Seeing me so tense, no self-confidence 

As I stood at the final aid station of the 2013 Big Frog 65 eating the cup of jellybeans that a volunteer had poured for me so that I could avoid actually touching them with my mud-covered hands, a girl rolled in behind me and said, "Good God, you're fast." We were at the back of the middle of the pack, but not the back of the pack after I'd lost what felt like 30 minutes trying to fix a flat tire with numb hands and a swaggy C02 injector that I'd won at a 'cross race and never used. I guess she had passed me during my stop only to have me pass her back once I got going again. Despite the fact that my finish time and place were completely unremarkable and the weeks of nerve damage in my hands that followed, that moment stands out as the best of my mountain biking career.

I bring this up because it was one of many moments that I relived during the my ridiculously long passage through the XC loop during the Rothrock TrailMix race on Saturday. I was already suffering a crisis of confidence in the week leading up to the race, but I was determined to do my best and not get stressed out. I succeeded in the "don't be a dick" kind of stressed out, but as a result, I fell into the "pre-determined acceptance of failure" kind of stressed out. The one skill that I've never learned in all of my years of bike racing is how to convince myself otherwise once the thought that a race will go badly has entered my brain.

So when the horn blew and I watched the other girls fly up the first climb and out of sight, I did my best to stay relaxed and not spike my heart rate trying to stay with them. It helped that the local fast woman who I know can smoke most of the singletrack sections was not chasing them and was in fact still somewhat in sight until she entered the singletrack. The strategy worked for her, as she eventually passed most of the chargers, but not so much for me. I hoped that keeping myself out of the red would pay off on the first rocky section of singletrack and that I'd start making up ground through the rest of the XC loop. Unfortunately, it started raining on way up and the rocks were very slick by the time we arrived. Probably because I was convinced how important it was for me to not bobble on anything, I bobbled on everything. Thus it went for the rest of the XC loop. I did not clear The Richard Rock.

The long drag back up Lower Trail to the road was when started reliving the moments of my mountain bike career. The already slow trail was muddy and slower than normal, and I felt an empty, aching feeling in my legs. I tried to imagine slogging up the two big climbs that remained in the race in my wet chamois, and it just didn't seem like a worthwhile thing to do. I had signed up for the time to try and post a good time and see how I stacked up against the other girls. I had more than proved that I was capable of finishing, and I thought I had wanted to race. The situation that I was in was not racing, and I wasn't really sure it could even be called training. It was mostly wet self-pity.

I was still worried about what other people would think if I dropped out, and that was when I thought of all of the times that I toughed it out in races and it was worth it. I tried to convince myself if people could stick it out in the hell that was the Dirty Kanza a couple of weeks ago, I could survive another unpleasant 1.5-2 hours of wet chamois. And I could; I just didn't want to. I wanted to be in dry clothes and watch Frank finished, so once I was off the singletrack, that I what I did. He finished 7th overall, and I was proud of him.

The weird things that I discovered afterward were that my heart rate was incredibly high on the XC loop despite the fact that I was trying not to ride that hard. I'm not sure if that was a contributor to my feeling crappy or not. I also developed a weird little pain in my side like a pulled muscle last Wednesday that has spread to pain in both hips, most of my back, and down my legs. I actually took a sick day today because I didn't sleep well last night due to the pain and still was hurting very badly once I got up. I'm not really sure what's wrong, but I hope it goes away soon.

As you might imagine, the bad race and the weird pain aren't doing much for my confidence right now. I really thought that I was starting to get kind of fast on the mountain bike, but this weekend proved that I'm still sorely behind almost everyone in my gravel-climbing ability, and my singletrack riding is still not quite where I want to be, even in dry conditions. I'm also getting some disappointing feedback from my new power meter now that I've had some time to test it out. These are the times that it is a lot harder to stay motivated, but with a little over 12 weeks until 'cross, I know that the best thing I can do is try not to dwell on the negative feedback and keep working my plan.

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