Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Vagrant Life

I left North Carolina six weeks ago with an unconfirmed plan for housing. As it turns out, it's best to have confirmed housing plans before moving. (Who would've thought?) Because that was not the case, I've been that friend who couch surfs and moves from friend's house to friend's house. Everyone has been super welcoming and helpful, whether it's by offering a bed, couch space, dinner, or even a place to leave my car (which is packed to the brim with my worldly possessions.) 

Now, don't get me wrong, living out of a suitcase, sleeping in guest rooms and cashing in friendship chips has been a great adventure but it isn't the most glamorous or stress-free life. I have learned some lessons along the way, some more poignant than others but lessons nonetheless. 

In no particular order:

1. Clothes doesn't need to be washed as often as you think.
2. Contradictory to point #1, do laundry whenever possible because you don't know when you'll have a chance later.
3. You can't be poop shy. If you gotta go, you gotta go. You don't really have a "home" toilet to go to anymore.
4. You really only need a few pieces of clothes.
5. Building and packing a bike has become way, way easy- 12 minutes for the last pack up. Boom.
6. Dressing as a hobo for Halloween, using clothes you've been wearing on a regular basis, is both excellent and sad.
7. As Clark has told me before, being on the road isn't so much about what's different, but what's the same- you always get up and eat breakfast, brush your teeth, get dressed, ride bikes, do your work- no matter where you are.
8. Thank the universe for direct deposit, online banking, and online bill pay!
9. Each place I've stayed has shown me something new, taught me lessons, and helped me grow as a person. 
10. I have one tremendous network of friends around the country. Everyone- and it's been a LOT of people- has offered to help in any way they can. For that, I am appreciative beyond words.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Striking Gold

One week prior to World Championships, we competed at the final stop of the UCI’s World Cup circuit in Matane, Quebec, three hours south of Baie-Comeau. The two time trial courses were similar to each other and would serve as the final dress rehearsal before Worlds a week later. Perfect execution was the goal for the World Cup.

Some of the Matane TT medalists
Matane’s 8km circuit was open for training before the day’s racing began. I’ve always liked pre-riding the course as much as possible; it’s one more opportunity to learn about the course, and to get a read on the day’s conditions. The wind changes directions often in northeastern Canada, changing the difficulty of the circuit so having the most up to date weather conditions is helpful. Pre-riding the course followed by a standard warm up on the rollers had me primed and ready to race.

The team’s head coach, Andy, was in my follow car. After some technical problems with the race radio, we decided not to use it. Rather, he would use a bullhorn to relay information to me. Having nearly constant feedback and encouragement throughout the race in Matane was incredibly helpful. From the start, I knew it was going to be a good day. Staying in control and going relatively slowly for the first three minutes had me raring to open things up. After that, everything felt great. Mentally, things were sharper than ever; leg speed was excellent; every opportunity to straight-line turns was maximized; speed and power increased throughout the race; position on the bike stayed the same from beginning to end despite fatigue. I crossed the line with a comfortable margin of victory. It was as close to a perfect ride* as I’ve ever been.

Warming up in Baie-Comeau.
Fast forward one week to World Championships in Baie-Comeau. The plan was the same- to execute perfectly. Andy was in my follow car with his bullhorn again and we decided to use a race radio as well. This was to get more specific information directly in my ear while racing. A morning pre-ride of the course and a final warm up on rollers started the morning of perfect execution. The weather was drizzly and cold on race morning: only 49°F when going to the start house. It went unnoticed once the clock ticked down and I rolled down the start ramp. The course was hillier than Matane which meant slightly more shifting and required slightly more focus on cadence. Still, I wanted to keep the cadence comfortable, stay focused, maximize speed, and keep the aero position.

When finishing the first of two laps on the circuit, Andy relayed that I was 37 seconds up on second place. By this point, Andy was going crazy yelling into the bullhorn, giving encouragement, and feedback. Hearing “you’re riding for a World Championship” was chilling, even in a semi-delirious state. Hearing teammates stationed around the course watching and cheering gave an added boost of energy. It was fun.

On the podium with teammate Sam H.
After crossing the line and rolling back to the pits, the results came in. I won. It was another perfectly executed ride. This individual title is far from an individual victory. It’s taken years of work; years of falling short; trying and failing again, and again; being the bridesmaid but never the bride; years of being helped back up by teammates, friends, and family. It has taken unyielding support. The easy part was riding as fast as I could.

Jersey, medal, bib.
Listening to the Star Spangled Banner and finally getting one of those striped shirts is a moment I won’t soon forget. The most amazing part of winning a world title though, has been the outpouring of support. Dozens of emails, texts, and social media posts waited for me when I returned to the hotel and they’re still streaming in, over a week later. It’s a testament to how many people it takes to win a medal, and how deeply the roots of my support system run. It’s impossible to thank everyone who has helped on this eight-year journey to the top but know that everything you do and have done is appreciated. Thank you.

For the first time in years, I didn’t go into Worlds counting the days until racing was over just to have a break from the bike; counting the days left before packing up the bikes and not looking at them for as long as possible. Rather, I arrived in Baie-Comeau energized and excited to race, excited to go out and play bikes because that’s all it is- playing bikes. I left with the same excitement and motivation to get better.

Team USA's World Champions
* A truly perfect time trial results in the rider’s death as they cross the finish line, having exhausted every ounce of energy and life from their body. I, obviously, am not dead yet.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

40 Things I Love About Cycling

The Para-cycling team just wrapped up a prep camp before our World Championships at the end of August. During that camp, a sports psychologist talked with the group about many things but one especially stuck out. She said that if you can’t come up with 25 reasons why you love the sport of cycling, you should do something else. So, I decided to sit down and write down some of the things I love about cycling. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Freedom
2. The friends I’ve made along the way
3. Going fast
4. Being outside
5. Being fit
6. Traveling
7. Going on adventures
8. Constant new challenges
9 Trying new things
10. Meeting people I wouldn’t meet otherwise
11. Sunshine
12. Drinking a Coke after a hard ride
13. Being tan (in places)
14. Setting goals
15. Having something to work towards
16. The peacefulness of solo rides
17. Racing
18. The organized chaos of races
19. Dropping in from the rail of the track
20. Cornering really, really hard
21. Pinning on a number
22. The sound of carbon wheels in a race
23. Being in the zone
24. The feeling of wind on my face
25. The feeling of wind at my back
26. Taking frustrations out on the bike
27. Competing with myself
28. Trying to hit the moving target that is “The Top”
29. Feeling the G-forces in the corners of the track
30. Descending
31. Following wheels
32. Motorpacing
33. Having friends around the world
34. Learning how to travel
35. Learning how to be resourceful
36. Getting to sleep a lot as part of my “job”
37. Having a lifelong hobby
38. Café rides
39. The accessibility of the sport
40. Being given opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed of before I started cycling

What do you love about cycling? The list is endless, really. What would you add?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

See You Soon, Colorado!

Once something goes on the blog, it’s official, right? Well, let’s make this official- I’m moving back to Colorado. While the experiment of moving to a completely unknown place- Asheville- was a fun and exciting thing to try, I’m only putting it in the “mildly successful” category. It just isn’t the right place for me at this time in my life.

The 2013 cycling season has been relaxed in terms of both training and racing which has helped clear out the post Games fog. Taking a step back from it all reminded me that cycling really is pretty amazing and allows me to live a lifestyle I enjoy; traveling the world, meeting incredible people and being in great shape are all things I value. Adding in getting to do all of those things with my best friends makes it something I don’t plan to walk away from anytime soon. I’m ready to refocus and rededicate myself to the highest level of training and competition.

After spending a while being unhappy in Asheville, working in a bike shop, training without a lot of purpose, it was time for another change. The opportunity to move back to Colorado came up and I want to take advantage of it while I can. I’ve decided to move back as soon as possible which will be shortly after the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships in Baie-Comeau, Quebec, CAN in early September.

I want to get fast again, finish school, and make a go of Rio in 2016. When the offer was first made, my reaction was “whoa, no thanks.” After thinking about it, it made more and more sense to do it. A big reason for leaving in 2011 was due to burnout and a lack of life balance. Having had some time away, living and training on my own, growing up a bit, I’ve learned skills to avoid burnout, or at lease recognize the early stages and take steps to avoid it. It gives me confidence that this time around will be better.

My time at the training center was when I was the fastest and I‘d like to get back to that point. There are a growing number of pros and elite cyclists in or moving to the area to make it a cycling hub with a highly motivated training group and resources to make that level of training possible.

So, there you have it. It’s official now. See you soon, Colorado!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Nationals TT

A win at time trial at nationals has been on my list for a while now. After two years of less than ideal circumstances- a broken collarbone in 2011 and international travel the day before racing in 2012- 2013 was shaping up to be a year for a good result. With positive results in international races earlier in the season, I went into nationals with confidence.

The course in Madison was more technically challenging than we saw in Augusta and Bend. Both of those previous courses were straight out and back courses with little terrain variation. While Madison’s course was simple from a driving perspective, it was technical from a gearing standpoint with each section of the course offering a different challenge.

One of my goals for the day was to build into the ride. It’s a habit I’m working on fixing but I have the tendency to start way too hot and fade (more like blow up) well before the finish line.

To start, riders left the start tent, made a quick right and headed out the longest single section of the course. With a bit of a headwind but slight downhill, it was a fast section to get things started. From there, we turned around the head of the lollipop shaped course and got into the rollers. They were punchy and required an effort out of the saddle. Mixed into this part were a few quick S bends and chicanes that left me spun out of gear and tucked up trying to be as small and aero as possible. We made the turn back onto the stick of the lollipop and headed home. It was a slight uphill for the return with a few easy rollers and a long line of sight. At around the 3k to go point, there was a speed sensor to tell cars- or riders- they were exceeding the 25mph speed limit heading into town.

After crossing the finish line, I knew the win was wrapped up. On the whole it was a good effort- there are still pacing aspects that could’ve been better and some lines that could’ve been taking more aggressively. It was a satisfying race after it was over and those can be hard to come by at times. That said, there is still a lot more to be had.

Madison’s time trial was the para-cycling team’s selection event for this year’s World Championships in Quebec, Canada in August. 26 athletes were selected to represent the US at the year’s pinnacle of racing. It’s safe to say this is the strongest- and largest- team we’ve had in years with a good mix of rookies and veteran riders filling the roster. It’s always an honor to make that selection list.

Thank you to Kaitie Antonneau for giving the skinny on the course conditions after ripping earlier in the day; to Exergy TWENTY16 and U.S. Paralympics for the support; Felt, Zipp, Sram, Oakley, Speedplay, Fi’zi:k, SRM and Catlike for the top of the line equipment; and of course friends, family, and everyone of you for the support over the course of this season- I couldn’t do it alone.
With Kaitie Antonneau, U23 champ.
Credit: N. Cranmer

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pinning on a Number

The highlight of my weekend was pinning on numbers. Let me explain.

After the London Games I was at a crossroads. The years leading up to the Games were laden with stress. They were packed with international travel, dozens of intense training camps, seemingly endless training at home, and the underlying stress of what if? What if I do all this work and don’t make the team? What if I get sick or injured and can’t compete? It felt like it was building and building and would eventually erupt like a volcano. This isn’t to mention all the same stress that an athlete puts on their family and friends. There are missed birthdays, graduations, summer barbeques and the more mundane movies with friends or nights on the town because of training. It’s tough on everyone involved. Riding and racing stopped being fun.

After the Games, the bikes went home on the freighter knowing it would take 2-3 weeks to arrive which meant forced time off and mental recovery. It would be time to sort things out. Bikes showed up and I didn’t want to ride- at all. They stayed boxed in the living room collecting dust. I took time to visit the friends and family I’d essentially ignored for the past three to eight years and do the things I missed out on while training- things like having fun. Fun is fun, after all.

It was three months before I had any interest in throwing a leg over a bike again not to mention training. In that time off, I contemplated retiring- at 24, was I done?- and what else would I do in that case? I came back to the mindset of enjoying the sport again, and wanted to continue riding and racing but didn’t want to deal with the stress- self-imposed and that put on my family and friends. Having another season like 2011 or 2012 was out of the question; international travel every month and being on planes two-three times a month wasn’t much fun by the time the Games rolled around, I hated the bike. There had to be a happy medium and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to race but on my terms and not finish the season wanting to light my bikes on fire.

This past weekend was the Greenville Para-cycling open in South Carolina. It was the first UCI Para race to be held in the states in over a decade and was my first race back after the Games. The event doubled as the kick off to the season and as the selection event for the American World Cup squad that will compete in Europe this summer. It was the perfect race to get back into the swing of things- it was close to home and there was something motivating on the line. That said, I went in with the mindset of “It is what it is” and if I’m selected, great, if not, that’s fine too. No stress. Having fun racing again was the goal. While pinning on a number for the time trial, it hit me: this was going to be fun, no matter what happened.

The simple act of pinning on a number is so much more than that. It’s symbolic of showing up with whatever game you’ve got- maybe it’s not your A game but you bring the best you can. You’re there to put your hard work to the test, to take to the start house, start line or start gate and give your best effort on that day. To say “yes I can!” to the effort because it’s something that’s fun. Pinning a number is symbolic of the hard work, the sweat, the taste of blood in your mouth, the hideous tan lines we wear proudly acquired from hours on the bike, that it took to get to that point.

This weekend’s racing went well. I rode a good, solid time trial- not great but good- especially after three months off and being the first race in seven months. It tested the legs and the mind and showed me that this is something I enjoy doing. This can be fun and doesn’t have to be stressful. I’m ready to pin on the next number.