Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Doing Things I'm Bad At

Last week when I stumbled upon Syd Schulz’ “Here’s What You Learn When You Do the Things You’re ‘Bad’ At” and “How to Get Better at Being Bad at Things”, I thought I was embarking on what was merely an inspirational but not particularly surprising tale of a self-described klutz that also happened to be a professional enduro racer. I say not particularly surprising because I know all too well what it means to be “better on the bike than off the bike”, as Frank once described me. If you tally my number of injuries per minute of riding a bike in comparison to the number sustained per minute of trying to run with a bike, I’m probably 4000% statistically more likely to end up bleeding the moment that I unclip during a cyclocross race. I’m not good at, you know, athletic things, and yet when it comes to the narrow focus of riding bikes, I do much better when it’s technically challenging than when it is not.

The point of the posts was however, both more inspiring and surprising than what I had expected from the first paragraph. I guess my one-sentence interpretation would be that you might end up being better at things you don’t expect to be good at because you focus more on the enjoyment/process of improvement when you have no expectations than when go into a new activity expecting success.

This is where our stories diverge, because I would describe myself as a bit enduro-curious, and it is admittedly because I think I might be good at it. It’s not that I think I’d immediately be able to jump in and start winning races, because I know there are many areas in which I would need to put in some dedicated work if I wanted to be successful in that discipline. However, pointing a mountain bike in a downward direction is one of the sharper tools in my somewhat understocked cycling toolbox, and this ability often seemed to bring me more frustration than success during my cross country racing days, so it would be nice to use it in a situation where beating people to the top of the hill is irrelevant.

Last year the Mid-Atlantic Super Series (MASS) introduced a seven-race “all-mountain” series, as one of the races was a Super D instead of an enduro. I didn’t try any of the races out last season, because I was so disgustingly out of shape for most of 2015 that I was worried about simply being able to ride to all of the stage starts without total exhaustion. Now, with five of last year’s seven races apparently not returning in 2016, the future of the discipline in this region is unclear. I am hoping to try out the two races that are currently scheduled for June while accepting the limitations that my Lust might have in that area. With the Wilderness 101 looming as my big goal for the summer, I don’t see myself being able to commit any more time, money, or bike resources into a discipline that I’ve never tried, but think I might be good at.

Someday I would like to ride an Intrigue SX on something gnarlier than the Pine Loop at BCSP.

I think track racing would be ultimate discipline that I would completely suck at when I started and still stick with until I was able to get kinda sorta okay at it, but I’ll never really know unless I ever move close enough to a velodrome to find out. For now, I suppose that my goals for the first 2/3rds of 2016 mostly count as doing things that I am bad at.

While I hoped that my fat bike racing plans would fall into my beloved category of weird, hard, obscure crap that no one’s really good at and thus I’m relatively not bad, the long, flat races so far are proving to have a roady bias that still might not be overcome by weird, hard, and obscure. Even if I do continue to be bad at it, it’s given me a valuable boost in my winter training that I simply would not have had the motivation to pull off if I weren’t currently in the midst of the training equivalent of cramming for finals. Also, the likelihood that I’d ever invest in my long, steady pedaling ability (the dullest tool in my cycling toolbox) without being pushed to do so by the weird, hard, and obscure demands of winter is quite low, so I’ll definitely end up a better cyclist from this winter’s pursuits, regardless of how I place in the rest of the races.

As for my Wilderness 101 plans, I once thought that endurance racing would be a thing that I was good at partly because of the weird, hard, and obscure element, and partly because I loved logging as many LSD miles as possible during my college running days. Of course looking back I realize that weekly mileage totals weren’t the panacea I once thought they were, and I missed out on so much time that I could have been racing by insisting on weeks and weeks of rebuilding “base” after each injury, such that I would end up injured again or fit at the completely wrong time for it to ever pay off. I’ve also since come to understand that endurance is not long and slow but instead just really, really extended discomfort, and that the time demands of high volume running miles for a college student vs. high volume cycling miles for an adult with a job are quite different. I’m much more of a get in, go hard, and get out girl than I used to be.

I remember a conversation with Frank early on in our relationship when I was discussing my past cycling accomplishments and failures, and I said that I would be perfectly happy if I lived out the rest of my life without ever finishing a 100 mile mountain bike race, despite my history of failed attempts. At the time I never really expected that I would live so close to the course of a NUE series race, in an area that requires me to be so much of a better rider than I was in Indiana just to function. This is the first time that I’ve set my sights on a 100 mile race and actually understood what I needed to do to be prepared and saw it as a reasonable possibility. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely doable. When it’s over I’ll have reached a new level as cyclist that couldn’t find for all of my years riding around without a map, trying to go around the mountain when over was the only way.

I guess that before I even read those posts, I’d already made plans to do things that I’m bad at this year in the hope that they’ll make me good at other things later. I’m not sure if I’ll take this so far as to start running with a bike more often, as I’m not sure that I can take the blood loss, but I think that in a sport as diverse as cycling, taking time to do things you’re bad at is a good idea.

1 comment:

Syd said...

Hi Lindsey -- thanks for sharing my posts! It was fun to peruse your blog a bit, I think we do have quite a bit in common (although you won't catch me doing 80 mile fat bike rides any time, soon, you're a beast, haha!) Cheers and keep crushing and trying new things :)