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Up then Down: A Rookie Mistake

I made a bit of a rookie mistake this ‘cross season.  I went too long without a break, and ended up too tired to race or train properly. Ultimately, I ruined my chance at a decent result at the last race of the year, and ended on a bit of a low note.

As I mentioned in my first post about ‘cross, I wasn’t expecting much when I lined up for my first race in September. I figured I’d be racing for top 20-maybe top 10. However, after taking a convincing lead in the first race and riding toward a win before flatting, I came to realize that I was super fit, and could win some races. I went on to win the next two.

Winning races puts a certain level of pressure on you. People (including you) expect to see you win, and suddenly anything other than first is no good to you.  The most pressure comes from within. The bar is raised after a win, and the pressure is increased along with that bar’s adjustment.

 One of many crashes in this spot. Photo by  Brianna Brandon .

One of many crashes in this spot. Photo by Brianna Brandon.

Once the rain came, I finished second at the first muddy race of the season. I rode terribly and crashed several times a lap. I wasn’t tired at the end though; I simply couldn’t push myself as hard as I wanted to because my skills couldn’t match the pace I wanted to set, hence the crashing.

After that race, I lost my interest in cross races. I was 7-8 weeks into a long block of training, and hadn’t had much rest since Canada Games. Naturally, it was about time to take a few days off, but I didn’t want to.

 Photo by my Bryanna from a dry one. 

Photo by my Bryanna from a dry one. 

I wanted to push until ‘cross was finished. There were a few reasons for this.

First and foremost, I wanted to postpone my break until racing was done so that I could take my time off during bad weather. The later I rested, the better the likelihood that I would be resting during consistently bad weather when my motivation would be lacking anyways. This would take a week or two away from the struggle to train without any motivation. I also didn’t want to miss any races. I had a shot at winning the overall Cross on the Rock series. I wanted to win. I wanted at least something to put on my CV from this season that said 1st. I know it’s local cross, and in the grand scheme of things people won’t make too much of a fuss over that sort of result, but next to all my 55ths from this season, it would’ve at least been something.

Something else that worried me was a ‘what if?’ What if like last year I took a break, and didn’t want to get going again? I was going well and was relatively motivated to ride, but if I took my time off, it might be hard to start training again. With shitty weather and no races in the near future, at a time of year where I’m down and have very little motivation, what if I had a repeat of last year? So I kept riding, afraid to lose the fitness that I hadn’t had in a long time, and afraid that if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again. I wasn’t questioning whether or not I wanted to ride, but I wasn’t trusting of my future mental health.

I was losing motivation for cross though. As the races started to favour mountain bikers more and more, the weather got much colder, and I wasn’t as fast as I had been a month or two prior. After finishing second at the first muddy race, I was bruised and sore all over. I crashed and nailed my tailbone the following Wednesday on a cross ride which hurt for weeks after. The next Saturday I crashed again on a training ride on the road, and managed to increase the amount of bruising and rid myself of some skin.

 By the time we had a double header near Victoria, I didn’t want to be there. I was really sore, super tired, and had no capacity to handle the cold or interest in taking on more bruises or reopening healing wounds.  It snowed on the first day, and I flatted both days when I was fighting for podium positions. On Sunday morning I was virtual leader of the entire series, despite my flat the day before, but I flatted again and finished 18th, which put me down to a provisional fourth overall.

 Riding ahead of Raph who won the series! Well deserved!

Riding ahead of Raph who won the series! Well deserved!

I barely rode during the week after. I was pretty done with cross at this point. I had a lot of fatigue built up and all my confidence had disappeared. My fitness from September could no longer compete with my fatigue. I wanted to take a break right then, but decided that I wasn’t ready. I wanted to win the series and end my season on a high note. I got a bit motivated and made a plan. I trained a bit for the next week and tried my best to recover. I didn’t touch my cross bike until the day before the race.

We drove up to Nanaimo the morning of and I knew it was a mistake.  I should’ve dropped it and taken a break. I was so tired that morning even though I’d only ridden four hours in the past week. I drove up with Bryanna, and the only thing on my mind was my excitement to have a rest period beginning that night. I couldn’t wait to throw my bike in the van after the race and drive home, leaving cross behind me and having the chance to ignore my bike guilt-free for a while.

I lined up to start but my mind didn’t - it was already in rest week. Or maybe it was simply too exhausted to be present. Either way, I didn’t hear the start siren, I just responded to the racers accelerating away from me.  I followed.

My lines were sloppy and my legs were empty. My elbows stayed in line with my shoulders and wrists, too tired to fight for my position. I passed a few riders only to crash and have even more pass me. I rode (didn’t race) three laps and moved up to eighth. Half way into the first lap I wanted to go home. I gave up on racing on the second lap. By the third lap I couldn’t wait to ride past Bryanna and turn off the course. I coasted onto the fourth lap and turned as soon as I found her. I sprayed off my bike and we drove into Nanaimo to find a coffee. I was sad for a few minutes, but laughed at how the outcome was exactly what I had predicted.

 Figured I should post at least one photo of me running, as I did a lot of it. By Bryanna. 

Figured I should post at least one photo of me running, as I did a lot of it. By Bryanna. 

Fitness is fragile. We work so hard to achieve it, and once we have it we don’t want to let it go. But peak fitness is peak fitness, and it cannot be sustained. I’m currently on week two of rest, having dug a bit of a hole, but I’m looking forward to focussing on being on the road for 2018 now and leaving the mud behind. This experience has also encouraged me to be careful as I try my first full season on the road in 2018. I must listen to my body and rest in order to make it through the whole year.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to race cross this fall. Having competition at this time of year kept me going, kept me (a little too) motivated, and allowed me to win a couple of races. Jon Watkin, Russ Hay’s the Bicycle Shop and Cross on the Rock made it all possible, and I’m very grateful for that.

2017 Cross Results:

Hot Cross Bunnnies: DNF

Days of Thunder #2: 18th (flat)

Days of Thunder #1: 6th (flat)

Cross on the Commons: 2nd

Kona Cup: 1st

Coal Cross: 1st

Tugboat cross: 10th (flat)