Moaning about adversity

What I find myself writing this Monday morning is about 180° from what I had hoped I would be writing.

What I hoped I would be writing:

“I’ve been planning revenge at the Koppenberg Circuit Race for the better part of a year. Last year I was in excellent position in the depleted front group of about 15, marking the moves of the strongest riders.  On the third of four laps I ran over what appears to have been, judging by the cross-sectional gash that instantly deflated my brand-new $95 tubular, the blade of a machete.

This year, in good form and having scouted the course on five separate occasions, I survived the early squirreliness, drove the dwindling field over the top of the climb each of the first three laps, dug deep to mark the attacks on the last lap and then sprinted out of the lead group of six for 3rd, or 2nd or…”

But instead of reporting this glorious result, my report is as follows:

“DNS because of illness.”

As I mentioned last week, I woke the morning of Mead up feeling a little rough. That didn’t stop me from a decent performance and although I felt like I had hit by a truck on Monday due to a combination of the affliction and the race, I figured all I would have to do is back off early in the week in order to get healthy again for the big race on Saturday.

Nice idea, but whatever was ailing me got progressively worse as the days went on. I went through the motions of preparing for the race. This included three short rides (took everything I had to get off the couch), prepping all my gear on Friday afternoon and crossing my fingers that maybe if I just took a bunch of Tylenol and sinus meds I might be able to muscle through for a result.

I even went so far as to Google “racing while sick” to see if I could divine some web wisdom that might help see me through. The results of this search revealed two things: 1. It may or may not be a good idea to race while you’re sick and 2. It probably is not a good idea to get medical advice from a mob of amateur athletes on the internet.

By late Friday with no energy, a low-grade fever, a wickedly sore throat and a left tonsil swelling to the size of a golf ball, I pretty much had to accept that Koppenberg would deny me yet again. Disappointing given how much I had prepared for this race, but also because all the guys on the squad had lined up to help me get my revenge result.

So while the first wave of racers tackled the circuit on Saturday morning, I headed to the see the doctor about a mile away. She was impressed by the size of my tonsil and immediately prescribed a course of strong antibiotics, although the exact cause of the illness remains a mystery (Strep tests came back negative). I was slightly amused when when she told me that this particular antibiotic (Clindamycin) works well on infections caused by both aerobic and anaerobic type bacteria.

I was still ambulatory at this point, so after leaving the doctors office I headed over to the course to wish my teammates luck and watch race from a grassy curb near the finish line. They performed well amidst the carnage of the race (two major crashes and a number of race-spoiling hiccups on the climb), with Aaron and Greg putting in their best performances of the season at 7th and 10th.

The rest of Saturday and most of Sunday were pretty rough. I was feverish and laid up on the couch watching a bunch of movies on cable, a stage of the Tour of Romandie and handful of NHL playoff games, the results of I didn’t really care about since my [defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston] Bruins got ignominiously bounced last week.

Anyway, when I started writing this blog I promised myself I would focus on stories and avoid moaning about adversity, roughly defined as any of the numerous physical and psychological setbacks that every endurance athlete has to overcome on a regular basis to keep training and racing. That said, I hate when people talk up some big feat they’re going to tackle and, when it doesn’t work out, they disappear and you never hear what happened.

I missed a big race that I was hoping/primed to do well in and I’ve likely lost some fitness at a critical point in the season. There’s a temptation to become despondent, but It’s taken me most of my adult life to realize that such a reaction is counterproductive. You can’t worry yourself into better fitness, you can only do the training. It’s a long season.

Here’s to turning the corner on this freak illness, regrouping a bit and picking up things at the Deer Trail Road Race this coming weekend. As for Koppenberg, you can expect that I’ll be back next year looking for payback with interest.

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Two offseason lessons from 2011

First: Don’t stress about the details during the winter

This might sound and actually be in sharp contrast to what is often advised by some of the top training guru’s in the US, but it’s an idea that is trying to address an undeniable reality: I am attempting to the balance training & racing with the demands of family and work, all while trying to hold traction on the increasingly slippery slope of middle age. This is to say that I have a limited number of motivational matches to burn and it will be much better to use them in April or May than in December.

Training consistently and getting the key workouts in, trying to eat and sleep well are important, but I’m not going to stress if I miss a session of one-legged pedaling drills. Or if I go for a 2-hour hike up Bear Peak in Boulder rather than do the specified 3-hours on the trainer because there is a foot of snow on the ground.

I’ve also cut back on the number of days I’m doing in the gym this offseason, as well as focusing more on cycling-specific exercises: 6×5-6 heavy reps of leg press or squat, some upper and lower back and full round of core. That’s it. Yeah I’d love to have ripped pecs and biceps for once in my life, but let’s face it: when you’re in the process of getting sawed off in a race, you’re never going to think “dammit, I wish I had done more decline presses over the winter.”

Diet is an ongoing struggle. Ironically, I find it relatively easy to go out any given day and trash myself in training for 2-3 hours on the bike or for half a day in the mountains, but “proper nutrition” is difficult because it is essentially a 24/7 concern. Thus I am prone to momentary but cataclysmic meltdowns of diet discipline, usually involving some salty/crunchy snack at 10:30pm (multiple large bowls of Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers are a favorite).

Between September and November of 2010 I lost 12 pounds through steady dieting, heading into the holidays at 155 lbs. Didn’t lose a single pound after that. Having been hardcore for three months, I simply lost interest in the details of nutrition. So if I’m going to be hardcore about what I eat for three months, I think March-May is a better window to choose.

In summary, I stressed about the details last year and had a long and productive offseason…only have my motivation and discipline gradually erode just when the racing was heating up. Better to keep it loose over the winter and save the matches. They will be needed later on.

Second: Don’t put all my eggs in a one-race basket…and then drop the basket.

Having a big goal race and periodizing your season around it is a great idea in theory, but there is a dark side to this method, or at the very least the potential for unfortunate side effects.

The first was a big emotional letdown/mild depression after I ended up performing poorly in my target race (scroll back a few entries for the ugly details). This combined with real life issues that all seemed to come up at the same time put an end to my season after only a few months of racing.

The second was that I can recall two points during the abbreviated season where I Woulda Coulda Shoulda dug deep and gone for what Mighta been a respectable Top 10 in a difficult road race. Instead, maybe a bit tired at the critical point in the race, I actually thought to myself  “well, I’m not scheduled to do well in this race anyhow” and eased off. I wince in contrition at that most regretful rationalization, not to mention the missed opportunity.

This will not happen again. Training for six months to race dubiously for two simply isn’t a good return on investment. I constantly battle the all or nothing mentality, which I’m guessing is form of perfectionism, so in 2012 I’m going to diversify my goals somewhat and seize whatever opportunities that arise. More about that soon.