Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mayhem Fat Four

As I churned through the early singletrack sections of my sixth lap during the Mayhem Fat Four, I began to feel an odd combination of creeping fatigue and elation. While I had been riding alone for most of the race because they started our three-woman field a few minutes later than the men, I felt like I had been riding well and my consistent lap times were evidence of that, despite the fact that the first place woman would be making her way around to lap me soon. She and I were about to be only females to have completed all of the races of the inaugural New Jersey Fat Bikes Series. As I reflected on the long, arduous, and yet only seven week, journey that had lead us to that point, the theme song of the TV show, “The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt” popped into my head.

They alive, damnit!
It's a miracle!
They alive, damnit!
But females are strong as hell.

As a faster and more experienced endurance racer than me, completing the series might not have been as big of a deal for the eventual series champion as it was for me. I know the D&L was basically hell for everyone who finished it, regardless of time, and to keep showing up every weekend to race fat bikes in the mud shows a strong degree of tenacity. In an odd way, it felt better to come in second to a faster rider who put in a strong, dedicated effort than it would have to win the series because I was the only one silly enough to want to.

So my creeping fatigue came from the fact that I’d already been riding a fat bike through punchy, swoopy singletrack at a steady pace for over three hours, and my elation came from the fact that I am now strong enough to do that with relative ease. More importantly, my elation came from the fact that for the first time in three years, I had actually accomplished the thing I had set out to do.

I haven’t felt this good about myself cycling-wise since I spent January and February of 2013 engaging in a different but equal level of self-flagellation to secure a podium spot at Death March. Self-efficacy has always been my greatest athletic limiter, so finding goals with the perfect balance of achievability and meaningfulness is tough. This usually means going for something that is a little weird that faster riders might not want to bother with, say hours of poring over maps, riding the Hoosier National Forest over and over because you have the tactical advantage of convenience, or being willing to ride a fat bike for 9 hours straight, then come back for a couple more four-hour races after that.

The trick is that by allowing myself to wholeheartedly commit to the weird elements and valuable-only-to-me extrinsic rewards of my goals, I can push myself to do things that I wouldn’t do otherwise to the benefit of my more “normal” cycling ambitions. For example, for the last two races of the series, the womens’ placings were pretty much decided within the first few minutes of the race with the series leader and myself in first and second respectively. However, something cool that I discovered after the New Jersey Fat Fondo is that I was actually faster than 15 out of the 30 open men, which really bolstered my confidence. I was having trouble placing that well in the women’s 3/4 field for most of last ‘cross season, let alone against men. I can only hope this translates when I start racing against my own gender and theoretical ability level again.

Frank also moved up into second place in the men's open series after the finale, making us an official fat bike power couple.

It’s actually a bit amazing after the deep depression that I was in during November and December that I was able to pull myself together for 203.2 miles, 21.5 hours, two hotel stays, and one 5:00 a.m. departure, not to mention work, training, Laser Cat activities, and wedding planning all over the course of 7 weeks. I also did this without binge eating, sugar self-medicating, and only one non-travel related restaurant meal. I’m admittedly exhausted both mentally and physically, and I’m relishing the fact that my next big goal will keep me training close to home for a few months. Still, the past month has really given me the confidence in myself that I can overcome the challenges of a daily life, which was something that I was sorely lacking in the fall.

I’m trying to give myself a bit of a breather before jumping too hard into Wilderness 101 training, but I also figure I shouldn’t wait too long to start leveraging the lovely base that I’ve built for myself this winter. The weather is looking like it will be compliant for some good old fashioned rocky, full-suspension singletrack riding this weekend, so it’s time to pull Princess Monster Truck back out to front of the bike pile. With a bit more rest and focus, I hope I won’t have to wait three more years before crossing another accomplished goal off my list.

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