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.

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