It has been nearly 8 weeks since I completed the Southeast Regional Championship series, and so much has happened during this period, that I’ll try my best to bring us up to date on this blog entry.

If you’ve been following my social media accounts, Facebook or Instagram, you may have noticed that I have been having a little bit too much fun lately. Yep! It was my “off season”, which basically consisted of riding my bike “for fun” and staying away from structured training for the most part. This allowed time for me to engage in different activities that didn’t require me to suit up in spandex and wear a helmet, and with that came some of the biggest mental and physical breakthroughs I have had in many years.

Backtracking to a few months ago.

Race season is always so tough for me. I don’t know how to line up at the start of a race and not feel the full on race stress that comes with competitiveness. I spend a lot of time analyzing my performance at any given race, regardless of how many people show up at the line against me. I guess it is because I am my biggest competitor. A first place is never just a first place for me, meaning I have to specifically get down to the key points in my race that helped me get there. It’s almost as if I can’t accept that “it was just a good day” for me. I know I make the good days for myself when I do everything I am supposed to do; competitiveness and achievements don’t just fall out of the sky, and that sometimes can be added stress that I truly don’t need. I can’t help it, though. While I know that’s just part of my personality (because truth is, I am that way in all aspects of my life), I am aware that it can sometimes fog up my long term goals.

I know I’m not alone on this. I have followed blogs and updates of fellow mountain bike racers, and it seems that we all share that same trait. It is exactly because I have come across these stories that helped me have a significant breakthrough in my life as an athlete recently.

I met a young lady from Ohio while riding in Pisgah National Forest in September 2016. Catherine was there to take a private skills clinic with the incredible Lindsey Richter of Liv’s AllLadies Ride. She had driven all the way from Ohio to western North Carolina with a friend, just to meet Lindsey for some shredding sessions. We spent enough time together and shared the usual stories us mountain bikers share, like how and when she started riding, why she started riding, etc. Long story short, she was a total BAD ASS, and I mean that so very much. This lady had started riding at about the same time as I, 6 years ago, and she had worked her way up to a Cat 1 MTB Racer. Not only did she have natural talent and skill on the bike, but she had successfully gone through huge weight loss and was incredibly fit. This stuck with me for a while, I love coming across stories of people who overcome all obstacles to be who they want to be, mentally and physically, but more so I love MEETING these people and shaking their hands, and congratulating them for rocking at LIFE.

This person who served so much as inspiration wrote an entry on her blog a few weeks ago where she openly expressed her frustration due to not being able to figure out a balance in her life at that current time. She was going through dietary changes that she was certain would benefit her but were causing her stress, she was struggling with technical obstacles on her mountain bike that she knew were never a problem in the past, and had gone from a very successful racer who landed on the podium often to not having any energy to even think about racing. She wondered, “How does one deal with this kind of crap?”, and then I asked myself exactly that same question.

That was the exact moment that something clicked in my head. Though my fitness on the bike seemed to be proper through the race season, FTP was at the expected and predicted value, race results always put me on the podium, my body was healthy and I had all the positive support from so many people, I still felt like there was something missing in my life to feel content and balanced. Though my hurdles are not exactly like Catherine’s, I had my own set of obstacles…..all in my head.

Fast Forward to two weeks ago.

Race season was over and I was ready to take a break! It was planned months prior by my coach, where I’d take a full week of rest completely off the bike, and then I’d start putting together my race calendar for 2018. I’d then start ramping up my training to get more volume in for a good base build-up period, and just like that I felt like I had gone through the second half of this current year and we hadn’t even gone through the summer yet. Before I even got through that full week off the bike, I was already stressing all which hadn’t even occurred and wasn’t yet planned. How does one deal with this kind of crap?

The Slingshot Principle

Catherine had inspired me for a second time, and she didn’t even know it. I’m not even sure she knows how much she inspired me the very first time she told me about her story as an athlete, but I hope she gets to read this so she knows she’s not alone….and not in the slightest bit. Her write-up truly did force me to take a step back and analyze the very basics of all this.

Why do I race? Why do I put myself through the mental agony and physical pain? Why do this and not that? Why did I become this person that I now am? Why can’t I dream of laying on a beach in Hawaii, instead of wanting so badly to be able to climb to that mountaintop on a bicycle? Why do I want to win races so badly? Why, why, why?

Deciding to “take a step back” two months ago is what put me in a much better place today. I not only took a full week off the bike, I took so many more days off the bike than I have in the last three years. I rode “for fun”, I didn’t care if I had to walk over an obstacle or if I didn’t have the energy to chase that segment on Strava. I didn’t worry if I had to cut my ride down to 20 minutes because of bad weather, or simply because I chose to dedicate my time to being more productive with other work/hobbies. I didn’t worry about engaging in full-blown nothingness.

The mental breakthrough I went through is something hard for me to explain, but the simple act of accepting that I had loaded my mind with so much responsibility helped me realize that I hadn’t taken the time to simplify my thoughts and expectations from myself.

I have clear answers to all those questions now; I race because I love riding fast through trails with a bunch of happy people, I do this because there truly is nothing else I am better at, I dang near dislike beaches, and because I CAN, I CAN, and I CAN, so I WILL!

One of the most significant breakthroughs I have had lately came from being forced to ride SLOWER. I stopped to smell the roses, or to pick wild blueberries several times, and somehow and without much effort, my bike handling skills improved. It is true!!! To go fast, you must go slow!!!

I still don’t know which races I’ll be doing in 2018 besides the USAC XC Marathon MTB Nationals, I haven’t gotten that far in my planning yet, but that’s totally OK. I have gotten back to structured training since 1.5 weeks ago and I am very excited and motivated to see what I can do.  I have an FTP Test I’ll be doing tomorrow, and most likely I’ll see a decrease in my numbers, but that’s also VERY OK! I will hurt, but that’s OK!

As I embark on this new phase of training with more specific goals for racing and LIVING, I realize that not all athletic goals place everyone in the same place. I now look forward to the next time I can take two months off the bike to play, but for now I’ll be focusing on more realistic goals while putting in all the work required to become a better athlete overall. That includes having more control of the thoughts and expectations that I create in this big head of mine!

I am a better athlete than last year, I am a better athlete than yesterday, because experience and hard work brought me here. Sometimes the hard work I have to put in is not physical at all. Sometimes hard work is not doing any work at all.
Didn’t require spandex or helmet!
Slowing down and smelling the flowers.
The little things that matter.
Embracing the rainy days.
Engaging in full-blown nothingness. Okay, balancing on a rock is a little bit of work 😀
Taking a step back to realize that the bigger picture is pretty darn amazing. #GRATEFUL