Thursday, May 16, 2013

Enjoying spring in CT by bike

It's days like this that make me glad to be a cyclist! Enjoying life.

Breaking up sprint intervals by a few stops for photos of the orchards and river just outside of New Haven.

Happy riding, everyone! 
Here's looking forward to a few days off from school and spending some quality time with my bike!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

small victories, small setbacks

Last night at the NYU cycling team party I had the first victory of my cycling season so far. A very very minor victory, but still a victory.

Do you know what a wall sit is? It's when you put your back against a wall, and squat down so that your legs make a 90 degree angle. Your feet should be directly under your ankles and your hips should be at the same level as your knees. In a contest, you hold that position until somebody's legs give out under them.

I won 3 consecutive heats of wall sitting against the NYU cycling team before my legs started wobbling uncontrollably on the 4th round through, soon followed by grimacing and squeeking noises before I collapsed. That's my small victory for the season. And, a quite silly one at that. But, what else did you think happens at a cycling team party? We are all competitive people and we love showing off our legs! I am the wallsit champion, having gone 3 undefeated rounds in a row and taken on the strongest competitors present.

As you've been hearing, this season has been a tumultuous one for me so far. I ended last track cycling season phenomenally strong, and with great ambitions of making it to Collegiate Track Nationals this year. And, then, when my health took a dive this winter and has yet to have completely resolved, I was left without the ability to regain necessary strength to perform at the level I had wanted. I've been learning to deal with accepting what I cannot change, and trying to let go of the feeling of mourning for the season of high performance cycling that I had been built up to expect of myself.

Cycling is a strange sport. When you are strong, you feel like you can do anything. And, to some extent, winning requires the maintanence of that egotism. If you don't believe you can do the improbable, you never will. And, when you aren't strong, it is both mentally and physically painful.

Quite frankly, feeling so consistently disappointed can be depressing. It's a strange thing when teammates try to be supportive and say things like, "Oh, but you'll do great in this criterium race! It's a technical course, this is your race!", and yet I know that systemic inflammation and anemia is not compatible with performance. And, it's difficult to have to tell people up front that I do not have anything to contribute to team performance for that reason. It's not a training issue that can be resolved by working harder, it's an illness issue.

After a particularly difficult week of disappointment I had a conversation with the Yale team coach in which I told him that I was thinking about giving up on competition this season altogether, so as to not have the constant reminders of my poor performance. I said, "I just can't compete in this category with my health like this. Maybe I should stop training for competition this year and give up on this track season". His reaction was characteristic of the tough-love that cycling coaches tend to dish out, "What?! Do you have the memory of a goldfish?! You just did compete, and you didn't finish last! You are in category, even if it's not where you wanted to be finishing this season! If you have the memory of a goldfish then I'll remember that and in the future for your training plans!". 

There may have also been some added, more positive comments about how in the larger scheme of things I will come out stronger for this setback, and a more mature rider for it all. He said that this is often one of the challenges people who are wildly successful upon first getting serious about any discipline of cycling face inevitably, because they haven't been prepared to lose. And, he's right. It is a bit like throwing a silent tantrum to want to give up because I'm not winning.

Recently, I was approached by one of the big collegiate track teams about training with them (access to resources like time on the velodrome is so important!) and "working for them" this collegiate track season. As a track team of one person at Yale, it makes sense to make an alliance and play with one of the major forces in the field. And, I had to say upfront that I am not the same racer I was last year and that their offer of track time would be a simple donation with minimal return during the season. It was hard to say once, let alone twice when they didn't believe me the first time. But, remembering that this is just a temporary setback helped. And, I did say, "I'd love to work with you now with the intent of performance next season".

And so, the training goes on, while I try to remember the joy of speed for speed in itself.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Closing of the 2013 collegiate cycling season

Wow, these past two months of the collegiate road cycling season have been a blur.

There have been ups and downs, and I'm still not totally back together again healthwise - yes, this week I've been off the bike for 3 days already due to feeling generally icky and exhausted in a lets-not-push-through kinda way.

The highlights of the season for me:
1. having the honor of being the men's team captain and bringing in a season of regained team spirit and many victories all around. This photo is of an inter-team ride and pizza party with NYU. Who ever said ordering pizza while riding a bike is a bad idea?

2. taking the time off the bike (or on the bike, slower than normal) to teach skills and help bring a well prepared, confident group of new racers to the collegiate season. And, watching them win! It's true, as they say, those who can't do teach. This is what has really redeemed the season for me. Just last week I had the joy of seeing one of our new men's racers take a bronze medal at the eastern conference championships, and it felt like a win of my own.

3. remembering that riding and racing are not always about results. It's nice to win and do well, but sometimes finishing is winning. And, when you aren't killing yourself at the front, sometimes you get to appreciate the race course a lot more. I bet nobody in the front group of the race saw that waterfall midway through the climb!

4. teamwork. Again, sometimes finishing is winning. My favorite road race after getting sick this year was the RISD/Brown road race, a rolling course with Battenkill-like dirt sections, which was deceptively difficult and exhausting to ride. After flatting at the start line (oh!), and then hovering off the back of the race I caught a teammate who was placed to do well who had flatted, and offered him a wheel exchange (as I was not in contention, I would wait for the next wheel car to come). I then restarted on course as fragments of the women's feild was coming through and rode next to one of my teammates (no drafting allowed for those not in the same field!) for about 20 miles until the course took it's toll and she said, "The social portion of this race is over! I'm hurting and can't talk right now!" at which point I took off up the road and ended up catching a few guys from my own field, including my teammate Daniel. He had "bonked", or became hypoglycemic and his body stopped working properly after not fueling adequately in the first half of the race, and he was in baaaaad shape - swerving in the road, not making eye contact, mumbling speach. Knowing we still had quite a bit of milage ahead of us, and that we were in the middle of nowhere with no cell phones and only scattered marshals, the best option was to keep going. So, I gave him all of my remaining food and sat up as straight as possible to make myself as effective a wind shelter as I could so he could do less work, knowing that it would hurt but I had enough in the tank to make it work. And, then when the food wasn't enough, I started zipping back and forth to find more food from elsewhere (more GU from other riders ahead, a can of soda from a police officer, a biscuit). And, finally, with a lot of coaxing in the final miles, we both made it over the finish line together. Finishing is winning, and everyone on the team finishing is even more winning.

Above is a photo of me during that race while I was on my way back with the can of soda, looking pretty relaxed and feeling pretty good about the day despite being so far off the back of the peleton.

About half of the team at the RISD/Brown race weekend

Now that the semester is over, most of the undergrads will depart for home. But, riding in New Haven continues! I'm still hoping my health will get it together and allow me to be competative for the track cycling season. But, if not, I'll still enjoy the ride!