A blog post for Podiumwear Custom Apparel
It's been a few weeks since road season kicked off, and I've already been on a rollercoaster of emotions. I was honored to be selected for the Irish World's team this past February, and while that experience was one of the most special of my life, it meant that my prep for road racing in 2018 was bumped back about three weeks. The delay left me with a lot of feelings and thoughts about how my 2018 season was going to go. I think every racer goes through a similar emotional state every year--and somehow, we still manage to forget that this isn’t a unique or new mental challenge when the next season rolls around. Maybe writing it down now will mean in 2019 I won’t freak out? Yeah, right.
This year, I thought I had really ruined it. Broken myself. Become a jello-brained, mush-legged, lazy racer who would never go hard ever again. So far, some of my thoughts on this season have included:
“Oh shit, I’m out of shape, everyone is flying right now.”
“Huh, I actually feel decent, but maybe I’m just confused.”
“OUCH THIS HURTS.”
“Will I ever enjoy visiting the pain cave ever again?”
“Oh thank god, it was just the collegiate racer/juniors/track racers/roadies/people who are in better shape than me.”
This year’s ‘spring’ in the Midwest didn’t help matters. As glad as I was to have my warm Podiumwear Arrowhead winter jacket to pull on, I did not appreciate needing it well into early May. Even the delivery of my fresh new Cuttin' Crew kit couldn’t shake me of the dread of the upcoming season. Yet, when I headed up Whitnall Park, Wisconsin, for the first crit of the year, almost everyone was experiencing the same early-season lull: hating the trainer, and just desperately wanting to ride with bare legs, no gloves and maybe a light vest. I wasn’t the only one suffering--and maybe I had been in this place before. After a successful day of racing, a thought popped into my head as I walked back to the car.
“YOU KNOW WHAT?,” I yelled. “BEYONCÉ WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY.”
My teammates laughed, and I promptly checked Twitter to find that I definitely wasn’t the first person to have the same epiphany. But original or not, it gave me a reason to reassess my perspective and how I approach the challenges of the early season. We’re creatures of habit, and those habits aren’t always good. Here are some tips I’ve found to be helpful.
1) Talk to your fellow racers, and find a training partner.
Most riders are dealing with a lot of the same things you are. You can commiserate, share ride tips and routes, and maybe get a better perspective on your season when you find a good racing confidant, even from another team or area. A lot of the time we train on our own because we have specific goals for our rides, but a new riding partner can help that time fly by and mix up your routine a bit.
2) Check in with your Doctor.
It’s a good idea to get an annual physical with your doctor. There can be real medical reasons that you’re not feeling so hot early in the season. Perhaps you are lacking in Iron or Vitamin D and that can lead to feeling sluggish and unmotivated. Keeping tabs on your body’s wellbeing can help prevent larger issues in the long run. We put our bodies through a lot of stress over the course of a season, and making sure you’re in top physical health is a great way to prolong your cycling career!
3) Focus on one small area of your training where you can do better.
It can be tempting to try to overhaul your entire routine in the search of those gains that everyone else seems to be making. I try to just do one thing better every year so I don’t get overwhelmed with starting anew every year. This year It’s been working on my core strength. I’ve taken up a regular yoga class with an instructor I like, and it helps me do something different that’s not just beating myself up on the trainer. I’ve been going once a week, and I’m seeing improvements in my riding and in my general well-being, too.
4) Get out to some practice crits.
If you’re lucky enough to live near practice races, they can be a great place to try things that you’re normally afraid to do in higher stakes environments. I’ve been attending the local practice crits every other week since they started in April, and jumping into the men's races has been a real confidence booster, being able to hang out in a fast paced race and even boss my way around the pack. It’s also an easy way to get some really good quality training in, including pack and handling skills! I’ve been able to go much deeper into the pain cave in those kinds of environments than on the trainer or rollers.
5) If you have a coach, talk to them about how you’re feeling.
I check in regularly with my coach, Jen Sharp of Alp Cycles Coaching, but it’s especially important to talk about what worked and what didn’t work at the end of a long season of racing. A good coach will be able to present you with a few areas of improvement, give you some perspective on the good and the bad, and inspire you to do better in the upcoming season! If you don’t have a coach, try talking to a more experienced racer on your team or in your area. It’s a really good idea to have a sounding board to give you some outside thoughts and perspectives on your own inner monologue.