The Off Season

I’ve flipped open my MacBook to write an entry about the 2011-2012 cross season a few times now.  The first time, I started off on a tangent about a risky spelunking trip I took in Oregon in 2001.  Somehow the mental tricks I needed to calm myself in the caves reminded me of the mental tricks in cross.  The second time, I started writing about the Patriot debacle in the Superbowl (yes, this has been a long process) which held some loose parallels to having had a lackluster race at Nationals.  The third time, I started writing about an 8-day juice cleanse, again somewhat connected to my trying to feel better about the season but still not about cross racing itself.  Why couldn’t I just write about cross?  What exactly was I avoiding?

The truth is, as much as I look forward to chicken pesto pizza and espresso cheesecake to kick off the off-season, and as much as I need the break from chest-searing 30/30s and long weekends away racing, the structure of the season keeps me sane. Eating wild-caught fish with kale and quinoa, executing 3 hour rides in 40-degree rain and heading to bed by 9:30 is calming because it is straightforward, predictable.  Keeping my body feeling healthy is kind of like picking up around the house – it makes me feel good about setting off on whatever is ahead for the day.  In the off-season, I get a little off-kilter.  I crave a lazy day not worrying about getting in a ride, but as soon as I relax about the training, before I know it, I’m in line at the bakery buying chocolate chip cookies – and muffins and scones – and I’ve mindlessly watched Desperate Housewives on Hulu well past midnight.  Without the structured extremes of the season, soon I feel like a sagging helium balloon, round and squishy and not very useful or attractive.

“You know, it doesn’t have to be graceful… getting out of a season or back into one,” a friend kindly reminded me.

But sometimes I just want to get back into the routine and feel the calm that it restores.

On the one hand, training and racing provide the competitive outlet and the mellowing endorphins that keep me balanced.  I laugh and smile more and enjoy the company of others more when I’ve gotten in my hours of sweating for the day.  Managing to combine social banter and adherence to watt zones with other crazy cyclists makes the hours go by quickly and we motivate each other to give the extra push on a hill or interval that leads to getting faster.

On the other hand, training and racing demand such a commitment of time and energy that can detract from other aspects of my life.  Meeting up for lunch happens only and if there is time after training and only and if there are leafy greens and lean protein on the menu.  Heading out to late-night festivities… well that just basically doesn’t happen during the season at all.  I could stay later at school to host a club, coach a sport, or provide extended extra help sessions.  I could take more time to fix my hair and makeup to look prettier.  It’s a choice I make to devote my prime hours to stimulating mitochondria growth and improving my lactate buffering system.

Beyond this logistical dilemma, there is a dichotomy between who I am as a racer and who I am as a “normal” human being to negotiate.  On the racecourse, I intend to be as fearsome and cutthroat as possible.  Show no fear, no weakness, and don’t let others get into my head.  This competitiveness has always come far more naturally to me than I’d like to admit.  Being vulnerable and open, however, scare me as much as descending S curves in huge pelotons.  What if someone thinks I’m pathetic for not having it all together?  Of course, my sensitive side, as shy as I am about sharing it, allows the smiles, tears, grimaces, and laughter that make racing rewarding.

Transitioning from one me to the other gets messy and ungraceful, which is probably why I’ve been so loath to write anything after the season.  The off-season is a time to be more human, in a sense, and to reach out for connection rather than ride away the stresses of life.  A time for reflecting, socializing with friends and loved ones, reassessing goals and desires.  It’s an opportunity to look in the mirror and ask if I’m the racer and the person that I want to be.

This past season was altogether a really positive one for me.  On a purely competitive note, I improved consistently each week, even made it from off the radar entirely onto the infamous Cyclingdirt rankings to #12.  I won a few races, podiumed frequently, and competed in my first gran prix races.  The fact that Nationals was a poor race for me was tough to process – even though the season was successful overall, Nationals is the last thing I, and others, will remember, and the most esteemed race of the year.  Going forward I can learn from that and be more mindful of eliminating the stressors that could have affected my race.

However, I’m fortunate to also have spent some great times making memories with some fantastic ladies!  Traveling to Delaware, Kentucky, and Chicago/Madison were highlights of the year.  We grew as a team as well, learning to work together and collaborate against the competition.  Sadly, the two teammates with whom I got to race most closely with this season have moved across the country, and I’ll miss them at the local series.

After eating all the cookies, scones and muffins I can reasonably do so while still claiming to be an athlete, and after getting over the hemming and hawing about actually reflecting on the season, I’m ready to embark on a new year of training and racing and tomorrow I compete in my first “race” of the season, an indoor time trial.  Hopefully I’ve learned a little bit more about how to be both “racer” me and “human” me, or at least how to be ok with the messy process of figuring that out.

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Nuts for Coconuts

In high school I laughed at coconuts – empty coconut halves banged together by Arthur in Monty Python – and quoted memorable lines from the scene: “It’s not a question of where he grips it.  It’s a simple matter of weight ratios.  A five ounce bird could not carry a one-pound coconut.”  I didn’t take the coconut very seriously until a friend gave me a young Thai coconut that he had bought on a whim at Whole Foods and then decided not to use.  Intrigued, I hacked it open (chipping my largest Henckel knife due to my incompetence) then poured and scraped the insides into a blender along with some vanilla and agave.  In a few minutes, the coconut water and coconut meat had swirled into a creamy, delicately flavored smoothie that had me addicted after the first sip.

Last Sunday my friend Michelle and I attended a coconut seminar at Stilisti Salon on Newbury Street in Boston.  Yes, I was as surprised as you are that there would be a talk devoted entirely to coconuts.  Are there actually other humans as obsessed with the tropical superfood as I am?  “Nuts for Coconuts” had been advertised on Each Peach Organic Café’s Facebook page (great café by the way) so I RSVP’d and was excited that Michelle was willing to go as well.  We buzzed in to be granted access to the high-end salon, climbed the winding stairs and walked in only to be somewhat taken aback to discover that we were the only two people in attendance who did not work at the salon.  The only two people who did not have stiletto heels, vibrant eye shadow, and multiple shades of hair.  No one seemed to mind, however, so we slipped into two swivel chairs and excitedly took note of the Vitamix and serving accoutrements laid out on the demonstration table: there would be tastes!

While Augusta (owner of Each Peach) and Bret the other presenter set up, I started to become a bit anxious, partly because I was excited to enjoy the Vitamix treat to come but also because I felt like everyone was now beginning to notice and disapprove of my hasty pony tail and was doing a makeover of my make-up-less face in their heads.  To be fair, I was also chuckling at the unusual composition of the coconut seminar audience, people who could identify the brand of someone’s purse but not, as it turned out, coconuts.  “What are those things?” one girl asked, pointing to the four white, conical-topped melon-sized objects on the table.   “These are the young coconuts…” the presenter Augusta (owner of Each Peach) began, but another girl interrupted her mid-sentence “Oh my gosh I love your shoes!”  “Where did you get that shirt?” another girl chimed in.  “So, how are these coconuts distinguished from the coconuts that are brown and stringy?” the sole male in attendance, who reminded me of the incisive Nigel from “The Devil Wears Prada” – queried.  The brown coconuts, by the way, are the mature coconuts that have the outer husks removed.

The presenters began by giving an overview of a raw food diet and its merits.  Then, they shared some amazing information about coconuts and the many raw products from coconuts that can contribute to a   raw food diet: coconut water, coconut meat, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut crystals and nectar.  There is even coconut flour.  The information is summarized in the attached sheet.  Finally, they prepared and shared a delicious and filling raw chocolate mousse with a coconut base, the recipe for which is also attached.

Both of the presenters intended to help make a raw food, nutritious diet more accessible and appealing to people whose busy and demanding schedules – like those of the stylists in attendance – lead to the convenience of nibbling on candy and other processed snacks throughout the day.  Both of them had “converted” to a predominantly raw-food diet from more typical American diets and reaped numerous benefits.  It was a really neat adventure to end up as visitors in the little salon in Boston getting inspired by people who love good food and being creative with nutrition.  Since then I’ve hydrated with coconut water on a long ride and I’ve made coconut smoothies, a coconut-flour banana bread with apples and walnuts, and a coconut-curry stir fry.  Perhaps you will find something useful and intriguing in the information as well – even if you don’t become as obsessed with coconuts as I :)

Nuts for Coconuts

Raw Chocolate Mousse

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Sterling CX race–day 1, Sterling, Ma ,with mother -daughter team Millie Milton(51)/Anna Milton(15)

posted by millie milton (THE mom)

I think it’s about the fashion statement. Why else would a 15 year old adolescent girl want to peel herself out of a nice cozy bed on a chilly, dark late-November morning and ride a bike around for an hour or so? ESPECIALLY if that means hanging around with her MOTHER all day?  That quite possibly might not be cool, righteously bordering on UNcool.  Race mornings at the Miltons can be dicey. It has taken us nothing short of months to work out most of the kinks and we still manage to bumble around    a lot. Our clothes get mixed up (?she’s a bean, I am not.. how does that happen?). I can’t find my:   ( fill- in-the-blank  ) ,  and she has no clean under layers. She takes mine.   Equipment gets switched around (mines’ better and she wants it??), registration numbers get goofed but I don’t always mind that- better for me!..)

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Monson Cross: 1st win for LadiesFirst CX in 2011

Written by Nancy Labbe-Giguere

Monson was my first cyclocross race of this season. For a short story, it did not go as well as I hoped and I explained it below, but Andrea Smith was there and she won for LF!

The race day started by a run to a local bike shop because I found a way to break my bike the night before. Then I picked up my teammate Rebecca for the drive to Monson. We got there with plenty of time to warm up and register. The lap around the school was on the short side and included a run up, a downhill with exposed rocks and plenty of turns on a grass field. The conditions were dry but it was cloudy and rain was expected due to the hurricane. While I was warming up on the trainer, I saw at least 20 women getting ready including Sally Annis and Andrea Smith, two of the best cx racer in New England. Then, it started pouring rain transforming a dry course into a muddy one. My last race with mud was Gloucester in 2009 and that type of condition worried me more than amused me. Continue reading

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My First Century, Crits, and Toneke

Written by Crystal Anthony
This past week I rode my first century. Never having done 100 miles had been like
never having read Animal Farm, or never having seen E.T. It was something I had
to do to make it to cycling adulthood. I was sheepishly excited to reach this goal,
mostly because my training peers routinely rode longer than this and it felt more
like playing catch-up then venturing forth. Case in point, acting as my gracious
guide by mapping the route and grilling homemade (and gluten-free) prosciutto
pizza after we finished was my friend Amanda who has done epic things like 300k
During the ride, I experienced no terror from speeds I was unprepared for, no
claustrophobia from peloton sizes I’d never navigated, no agony from grades I’d
never trained for. Tackling the century ride was manageable enough given the
fitness accrued from years of racing marathons and triathlons. While an eerily
smooth experience, there was calm satisfaction in knowing I’d come a pretty long
way since I pedaled my first magenta Huffy up and down our neighborhood’s
Gregory Island “hill” as a kid.
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Cascade Cycling Classic

Written By Crystal Anthony

A few years back I began taking some anxiety medication (after a near-death experience with hypothermia from my first triathlon attempt, I began having panic attacks) and shortly thereafter ran in a USATF series 12k race with my team.  When the customary discomfort set in after a mile or two, I was shocked to find myself thinking:  “Eh, this hurts, no point in suffering to finish.”   I was so mortified to feel totally ok with giving up (and I actually did drop out!) that I decided to forego the culprit medication: I’d rather face the panic attacks than lose that drive to excel and to win that made me “me.”

Eventually, the panic attacks subsided and naturally I went about training for triathlons a year or so later, but since then I have known something more about myself: I’m one of those nutty people who cares—excessively—about racing, and even when it looks silly I don’t give up.  Sometimes I want to win and sometimes I just want to do the hardest possible thing I can finish.  Call it stubborn or driven or tenacious, when I want to do something, I get it done, barring having to be carted off in an ambulance.

After my brother Jesse and Alison S both mentioned Cascade Classic as their favorite stage race, with lots of long steady climbing, a beautiful venue, and a good old TT that I’d like, I began to look into it.  Located in Bend, OR it was not only in familiar territory (former CX nationals locale) it was also very close to some relatives with whom I could stay for the week, and held during my summer vacation, making the logistics feasible.  Thanks to help from LadiesFirst and Phil’s ever-gracious bike assistance at Seaside, I was off on my way.  It would be my first NRC race, and first significant stage race.  But it was a challenge that life seemed to line up in front of me and for that reason, I was up for it.

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