When I made that video hyperlinked above, a series of events created a perfect storm to take a step back from the competitive cycling season about a month early. A decision I anticipated would be fraught with internal turmoil was actually shockingly easy to make and absorb. Since that time, I reprioritized how I approached the Fall/Winter of training in the following ways: 1) I made strength training primary -- frankly, I was tired of looking like a cycling climber for the past 15+ years and, having turned 50 last December, it was time to really focus on ensuring the highest quality of existence for the back-half of my life; 2) I cut back on the cycling volume – no more 1-2hr sessions at 0-dark-30; 3) In making strength training primary, I would follow a session up immediately with a short 20-30min cardio session of varying intensity depending on the flow of the week – this served to up the impact of the session and create some economy of scale in the day; 4) I stopped setting the alarm for 3:45-4:15am and instead wake up fairly naturally at 5:15-5:25 like clockwork – the upshot being I get an extra 60-90min of sleep every night; and 5) I decided to finally get back to some trail running – something I’ve wanted to do for a handful of years but felt compromised my cycling too much given the Colorado racing season starts fast and furious the first weekend of March with the Frostbite TT.
I’ve won the Frostbite TT multiple times. It is right in my sweet spot given its length and my power curve. The out-and-back course is imperceptibly downhill on the way out and nefariously, noticeably uphill on the way back. It’s a 30+mph effort for roughly 25 minutes. You either blast it or it cooks you. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel I own that race given the level of success I’ve achieved with it. This race alone kept me motivated through the Fall/Winter of relentless indoor sessions because there is nothing like kicking off the season by ‘opening the account’ with a victory. But, something really interesting happened this year. Two days before Frostbite, one of my teammates posted on our team’s Facebook page that Frostbite might be postponed due to some shitty weather set to roll through Colorado heading into the weekend. I read that and I just stared blankly at the screen.
A shocking reality hit me. No, not that I would not have the opportunity to defend my title from 2018. Rather, until reading his post, I HAD NOT EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT THE RACE! Sitting there in shock, the following thoughts ricocheted around my mind – I had not renewed my racing license; I had not had ‘the talk’ with my wife at Christmastime about the racing plans for the upcoming season; I had not been on Zwift at all the entire Fall/Winter; I had not done any structured interval sessions on the bike; I had not done any group rides; knowing it was the beginning of March, I never even connected the dots that the beginning of the racing season was upon us.
What I’ve come to realize is that at this point in my life, challenging myself is enough. The process of betterment is not much different than it is when I was focused on competing year round. The absence of race-specific goals is really the only piece of the puzzle missing. I have thought about competing in some trail running events this summer and felt myself aggressively preparing to ramp up the running. My wife, always one to provide some grounding perspective, posed this to me yesterday: “You ever think about taking a year off? You’ve been competing non-stop since you were 6 years old. All the signs since last summer seem to point to needing a step back and a break.”
She’s absolutely right. I need to sit with what it feels like to not compete, absorb it and see how I react to it over the course of the year. Choosing not to compete in no way keeps me from doing what I would do anyway. In fact, if anything, it liberates me to do exactly what it is I feel like doing on any given day without worrying about if it is the “right” or “wrong” thing to do. Because there will be zero impact on any predetermined goals associated with competition. Freedom. Enjoyment. Adventure.
The trail run races I had originally earmarked for 2019 still intrigue me. I can see doing them in 2020. But, for now, the sheer enjoyment of movement, and challenging myself and my limits in ways that I haven’t in a really long time are both very appealing.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with racing and competing. Races can be wonderful expressions of our athletic selves. My cautionary tale here is that if you feel beholden to compete, then a step back for a fresh perspective is probably a good call. There should be no “have to” associated with any training or racing we do – because it is our choice to do or not do an activity. Rather than define yourself as a particular type of athlete – “I’m a triathlete,” for example – instead the sport should just be one facet by which you define yourself. “I’m a woman, wife, sibling, mother, friend, teacher, volunteer and I also compete in triathlons.” Subtle, but big difference in mindset. And an important one.
If you find yourself struggling with the whole ‘challenge myself vs competing’ conundrum, hopefully this post will help you process that and come to a conclusion, in either direction, about which you’re excited and happy.