Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sterling: Victory over Doubt and the Burning Tights

The rest of life roared for attention this week - endgame on clearing out the beloved house I grew up in - resulting in a fairly draining past few days. Plowed through the training out of stubbornness but questioned the merits of VO2 intervals that felt like flogging a dead horse. Dead warming up, wondering if I should even be there, and hid the heart rate monitor so I wouldn't get discouraged by numbers stuck in the cellar. We all try to be "pro," to keep our legs up, stretch, recover, and sleep, but we train and race in the context of the rest of our lives - hosting epic Thanksgivings or chronically getting the flu while teaching first grade or taking care of others or whatever - so my own busy spells are hardly unique, and hardly prohibitive of good bike racing. But believing this is sometimes a mental battle. Warming up I kept saying to myself "I am so strong, I am so smooth," something I do when I need to shut negativity out. This race was wide open in Lyne's (and Mo's) European absence. I thought coming in (at least prior to warming up), that if I rode well I could win and didn't want to squander this rare chance. In the end, I had the horsepower to make up for a few technical gaffs. I guess you could say I was racing against my friend Rebecca, not on her best day, but more I was racing my own self-doubt. My race was nothing spectacular - sluggish legs and lacking in grace on several of Tom's course features (at one point Richard Fries exclaimed "very clumsy dismount by Milkowski on the run-up!") but I got it done. Last year this race marked the end of an ill-contrived decision to go cold turkey on caffeine for the week, and I rode around in a coma, so revenge taken on this front. After the race I was yakking away with Kathi Riggert in front of a portable heater when she yelled "you're smoking!" and my tights caught on fire. There was a pretty big hole so I threw them away right there - they were old and pilly anyway so it's no great loss, and Kurt might have a replacement.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

USGP Sunday: Be Careful What You Wish For

All that Dewey talk, and I got it - the divorce from results-based assessment. The course was slick due to rain, with horsepower sections replaced by corners. It was going to be challenging. My goal heading in was to have a better start - top 10 - then ride a race of as few mistakes as possible, apply power when possible. The start was somewhat better than Saturday, still not top 10. I decided to run the whole sandpit - the sand was carnage for the drivetrain. On lap one on the corner just out of the sandpit, I was taking a wide line to ride on grass rather than mud and hooked the tape and went down. Someone ran over my bike and caused the brake shoe to fold under the rim, preventing the wheel from turning. I ran the bike to the pit, a bit further away than I would have liked. I think I moved to last place, and after that the race was about moving up. I guess I can be satisfied that I felt better running the sandpit compared to Saturday, when Mo sprinted past me as though I had cement boots on. Sure she's excellent at running, but that was embarrassing! I guess it's similar to the "I can't sprint" statement lacking some truth if you've been attacking all day in a road race to avoid the sprint - that gassing oneself riding the sandpit to the point of standstill does not bode well for the running legs. (Of course, proper dismounting and conservation of the magic M momentum might have avoided this too.) And I resolved some of my issues with the Green Monster remount, namely just didn't care if I had clipped in or not. Not to mention that I got some practice with bike changes. Amy had another great day, finishing 7th, Barb and Kathy Sherwin worked together for solid rides, Jen had trouble breathing due to a barrier crash the previous day, and Mel we all know can be faster, but I am sure was super smooth in those corners. Stephanie and Melody are finding their legs. I am holding off on riding the trainer today but it's 31 and raining...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

USGP 3: Close

Legs were good but lots of near misses and tactical naivitee yesterday. Somehow the non-blow-up start strategy rendered me about 25th off the line - pretty impressive feat given a front-row start. But worked my way up in spite of early corner chaos. Following Kelli Emmitt up, but jumped her because I thought I had more power, then she made the group racing for 9th and I didn't, just came painfully close to making that group but just did not seal the deal. Instead dragged Mo and Natasha Elliot through windy power sections only to have them kill me at the end, Mo launching an assault in the sandpit and Natasha capitalizing on my chronically weak remount at the top of this Green Monster flyover. So I ended up 16th, with a quite a lot of "just missed the next group" plus "last in my group" sentiment. But better than last GP, that's for sure, and I'm excited for today, though I need to improve on the monster and in the sand. Could be interesting as weather calls for rain and temps in the 40s. All those tacky corners could get fun, not to mention a lakeside off-camber.

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.

Friday, November 2, 2007

This Horse Ate Clover during the Derby

Caught once again as fair weather blogger... I had a rough weekend in Kentucky. I won't explore the entire metaphor of bike racing as cross course, but the big M momentum of cross certainly applies to racing, and I didn't have it last weekend. DOA - dragging on arrival - in spite of the most excellent hosting of former New Haven friends Gordon and Elizabeth and top company of Barb and Rebecca. But if bike racing is "you run what you brung" (even if you didn't bring much), I didn't even do this. A few setbacks (Saturday's lap one included crashing, getting caught behind a crash, then flatting on a mysterious thorn) but then I just gave up. And what is this? Just not acceptable. And Sunday was even worse, I was just going backwards all day. So I've been trying to get my swing back this week, to turn frustration into something positive, reinvest in some of those neglected areas of life, and regain some perspective. Because joy in bike racing is for sure the biggest propellant. Tomorrow's predicted hurricane has me pretty psyched! I really need to get the digital camera repaired. Photos by Elizabeth Daniell.