Friday, November 16, 2007

Calling John Dewey

Setting aside the fact that John Dewey was against competitive sports, since my mini-implosion of a few weeks ago, I have been applying some of his educational philosophy to bike racing. Because racing is about the challenge of learning by doing on all sorts of scales - from year to year, race to race, lap to lap. The dead fact is useless. Past experience must be incorporated into the present to adapt and grow. As far as the limited utility of grades and prizes and the resultant striving for the wrong reasons, those apply too. Grades and results are probably better than nothing when it comes to assessment, but they are shortcuts that rarely tell the whole story. How many excellent races have yielded no results? How many great results have only ho-hum rides behind them? A results focus seems limiting in several ways: as a distraction from focal points like smooth cornering that actually improve one’s race and as a way to box oneself in, pose an acceptable house for oneself, judging basement to ceiling by the performance of others. If Katie Compton considered a win in the U.S. the be-all-end all, do you think she would have won a World Cup last week? Expectations can drive good performance – people believe in you, you believe in yourself, you deliver – but more often than not they are a weight on the back and have a pigeon-holing effect. Plus, given that almost everyone I race against is a friend, it’s better to keep it internal. So on to the sailing phase of the season, the “be a seal” phase as one friend puts it. Time to get zen, embrace that concept of “you run what you brung,” that the best race is the best performance given a day’s legs. This quest to maximize, more than any result, is the real challenge and intrigue. I got the rest I needed and the word of the day is balance: the start that makes the selection but does not blow me up, digging deep but with motor-control retaining composure, reading the course for sections of “burst and float,” and recognizing the race is 40 minutes long – that there’s time to move up (and that moving up is better than moving backwards). Recent racing news: Mo has found her legs; Rebecca continues the great riding (with me the latest victim of her sprint), Mel Swartz gets faster and faster, especially in sandy corners, Amy Dombrowski is flying (when she avoids crashing), and Chris Jones survived a mudbath in Holland. Velo Bella mechanic Morgan saved me with a hanger replacement at Beacon, plus pitting both days, and New Haven Bob continues to enable this season with his constant overtime schedule of tire gluing and replacing cables. I think a respirator is in order, or at least a nice dinner. Bike is tricked out – pink is fast - and I am psyched for New Jersey. Wind and horsepower sections and sandpits are all favorites of mine. The strength and depth of the field can only add to the experience. And oddly, because I try to avoid distraction, excitement about next year's road season is fueling excitement for cross. Go figure. As I head to Trenton, photos from the salmon-fishing brother in Alaska allow for vicarious living of a different sort of outdoor life.