On Handling Bad Times Like A Pro Or Something

Things have been unraveling since I slammed into the ground during the first North Star Grand Prix crit on June 15.

Lindsay Bayer Bokanev ER VisitWhen the crash happened and I was cleared by the hospital and the stage was neutralized, I went back into the race the following day like nothing had gone wrong. I did that stage and all the others after it, limping along stubbornly and pushing my body so hard. There was no logic in what I was doing but I couldn’t stop and wouldn’t let anybody around me say otherwise. That mindset is my greatest gift and curse as an athlete – I never stop.

But I should have. Then, or in the days after, but I didn’t. I tried to race and then started another cross-country drive out west. I called that drive my “time off” but who the hell is ridiculous enough to think driving 5-6 hours a day for a week is restful? Apparently me. So I made it to Missoula, MT “fresh and ready to train” except that I was still in so much pain and my body wasn’t functioning.

To properly recover, I took a day off. Literally one freaking day, and then I was back on the bike pushing. When my body balked and the pain increased, I got annoyed and pushed harder. Off the bike, I kept up with corework every morning despite my mid-back being in perpetual spasm. There were so many signs that I needed to stop moving but I just couldn’t. I sobbed through intervals that were sub-par at best, ate far too many salads to compensate for what I thought was not enough hard training, and bludgeoned myself mentally around the clock for not getting it together. There was also another visit to the ER to rule out the possibility that the lump in my leg post-crash was a blood clot.

Then once I’d concluded my refreshing rest in Missoula – which was at least made enjoyable by time with my teammate Ivy and her wonderful family – I packed up the car again and drove to Seattle. Signed a lease, set up an apartment from scratch, and started a whole new life with completely new routines in a new place. Three days later, I left to race BC Superweek.

It’s weird how I didn’t feel fresh and ready.
Lindsay Bayer BokanevThen my heart kept acting up with arrhythmia episodes and my back kept aching and the first race was crap and so I decided to stop. But of course I still kept riding because insanity knows no bounds, and then the Gastown Grand Prix came around and I couldn’t bring myself to sit out another race. So I lined up and actually raced the crap out of that event. It was great – I didn’t feel good at all but it didn’t matter one bit. I ended feeling a bit like myself again and ready to focus on the next step – a block of cyclocross racing!

So I took one day off to rest and then started running. Started off gradually with a nice easy FIVE MILES which is somewhere near the upper limit of the farthest I’ve ever run. I ran for consecutive days and then started riding again a day later and are you getting the gist here? I never stopped moving, despite injury, travel, fatigue, burnout, and major life changes.

Lindsay Bayer Heartrate MonitorAlong the way, things in my personal life took a nosedive. There was anxiety and emotional times coupled with stress from work and meeting all sorts of obligations and deadlines. To figure out my heart issues, I had to wear an annoying, uncomfortable three-lead heart monitor at all times and carry a stupid device that looked like a clunky beeper from 1993. I lashed out during rides, dropped out of a local weeknight crit, and struggled to figure out who I was and what I was doing if I wasn’t a successful professional cyclist. What do you do when the biggest thing that defines you and your life goals stops having meaning?

It was more than just my body not cooperating. This season has been tough personally, with the concussion at Gila, the illness during Tour of California, and the crash at North Star. Racing while running a team and holding a full-time office job was harder than I expected (dude, duh). I’ve also seen friends and fellow racers get decimated by this sport and come away badly injured. It’s hard to think “oh, this is TOTALLY worth it” when you’re in the ER for the second time in weeks because you slammed your body into pavement. I started questioning why I kept going and what I wanted out of my life and the sport. What mattered the most? What sacrifices were just not worth it anymore?

Things have started to settle down now. My injuries have faded, riding a bike feels good again, and my personal and professional lives have stabilized into feeling mostly manageable. I stumbled through some of the hardest times I’ve ever faced, doubled my antidepressant, leaned on the best friends and parents a person could have, and then gradually stumbled back towards feeling okay. That’s where I am now. Mostly healthy, mostly okay, mostly focused on what lies ahead.

Lindsay Bayer Bokanev
This sport is so demanding and costly and sometimes now I’m not sure it’s worth the price. But it’s also been the greatest love of my life. I started in June 2007 and haven’t been able to stop since, despite a hundred setbacks. So for now, while I’m still unsteady and uncertain, I’m trying to focus on the love part and just keep moving forward until the rest of the plans and motivation fall into place.

I talk to a lot of other athletes about their experiences in training and competing and it often seems like we all see these setbacks and doubts as a deviation from the road to being a great competitor. But that’s not correct. Part of being a professional at anything is learning to see the crappy times as a real part of the process, not a detour. I’ve never felt more like a professional athlete than now, when I am able to accept that shit happens and I can still keep moving forward and that it is actually all part of the plan.

Lindsay Bayer Jono Coulter Bokanev

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In which I uprooted my life and moved into my car

I’m sitting in a stranger’s living room now, doing my laundry in his washer with my feet up on his ottoman. I’ve never met the guy before but I’m going to sleep in his bed tonight and go through his cabinets to find a pot to boil water in the morning. After breakfast, I’m going to pack up my things, get in my car, and relocate for the weekend to another city I’ve never visited.

This is basically my every day. Tonight it’s Cory’s house, last night it was Chelsie’s, for a week before that it was Ayman’s, before that it was Angie, and Alice, and Gretchen and so on. The year started with me living in a studio in Tucson that I was subletting from a guy I never met named…..David? Michael? Can’t recall. But for three months, I used his dishes and sheets and towels, lounged on his couch, scribbled notes on his decorative chalkboard.

His, mine, hers, anybody’s – it stopped mattering a while ago. When I left home at the end of last December, I didn’t know when I’d be back. Andrew and I had reached a point where we were happier apart than together and I needed to relocate to warmer weather to train. I packed the Chevy, took Tanner along for the ride, and moved west. When the race season started, I left the Tucson apartment and moved around California, staying in various places sometimes with Tanner, sometimes without. Eventually I drove all the way back east for a block of races in Winston-Salem, Philly, and Northern Virginia, but then it was back on the road to Minnesota to race North Star. Now I’m driving to Seattle by way of some time in Montana, will race in Vancouver and Bend in July, and then figure it out from there.

Tanner is still in California, living in Redlands with the most amazing dogsitter on the planet. She spoils him rotten with hikes and runs and adventures and games and I’d feel inadequate by comparison except she’s so much better than me at dog mothering that we’re not even comparable. Apples and oranges.

2016 Redlands Tanner Crit 2
My father asked me the other day if I’m tired of traveling and I realized no, I’m not tired of it anymore because it no longer feels like traveling. Sometimes I miss the concept of “home” but it no longer feels weird or inconvenient to live out of a suitcase. I’m still a creature of habit – breakfast is the same every day, core work happens every morning, I follow the same bedtime routine every night – but it’s possible to have those routines in a perpetually shifting area code. Home becomes a concept defined by certain comforts; my same pajamas, my morning coffee ritual, my family and friends instantly accessible by phone (and spread all over the country themselves anyway).

It helps that I have a car here. People mock my seeming aversion to air travel (and yes, I loathe airports and airplanes and delays and boarding passes and seatback pockets) but it’s so nice to be able to have my “house” available everywhere. All of my cycling stuff and snacks and spare toiletries and winter clothes and cooking supplies are parked outside and make it easier to live comfortably and feel settled anywhere. My car is organized sort of like a Container Store fantasy: there are drawers and bins and even hanging fabric shelves that make storing and finding things easy.

If you put something out of place in my car, I will stab you.

So this is my life now. I travel around, use Airbnb to find places to stay, see places across the country I’ve never visited, and still carry out some semblance of a typical life with training and working. Sometimes that looks almost normal: I wake up, do work, go for a ride, do more work, go to bed in the same place. Other times that looks odd: I wake up, motorpace for 2 hours behind the car while somebody knocks out a chunk of that day’s required drive, work from my laptop in the car, and spend the night in a stranger’s home in a town beside the highway. The basics are always the same. Wake, work, ride. And eat. I do a lot of eating, from my sack of food in the car to roadside grocery store stops to interesting local places.

I went back to Virginia for a little over a week at the end of May and while it was good to be back and wonderful to see my parents, Andrew, and friends, it also didn’t ignite any real desire to stay. When it was time to go, the only thing that felt hard to leave was the people. Home isn’t a specific place anymore.

This lifestyle will probably get tiring at some point. Not knowing where I’m going to sleep in a week and continually getting used to new pillows can be tiring. I’ve eaten hardboiled eggs every day for the past 10 days because it’s more convenient than cooking in new kitchens. I don’t actually like hardboiled eggs.

But for the moment, I am happy. My life feels like perpetual good luck, even during the difficult, stressful, or lonely times. Andrew is my best friend and family rolled into one. I’m dating somebody great. My dogs are happy. My team is awesome. The bruises from last week’s crash are starting to fade. If this is the best my life ever gets, then I am pretty damn lucky.

2016 Road Trip
Ten Things I Have Learned About Living On The Road:

  1. Pack light. If you think you need it, you’re probably wrong.
  2. You can wear the same outfit over and over as long as it smells clean.
  3. Always have silverware on hand. Andrew got me this and it’s the best thing ever.
  4. Yogurt and eggs can spend all day in a car. Spinach is iffy. Fish and pickled onions are a hard no.
  5. Pack everything in the same place all the time so you don’t constantly lose things.
  6. Don’t worry about looking stupid when you’re savoring your surroundings. I hugged a metal sheep yesterday to take a photo. People drove past and probably stared. Who cares? Now I have a photo of me and a metal sheep. That’s worth a lot more than my dignity.
  7. Add “hipster” into your Yelp searches to find the really good coffee, food, beer, and wine places.
  8. Always have a jacket/sweatshirt and sandals accessible.
  9. Never assume you are home alone. It is likely you will regret it.
  10. Hold tight to certain routines each day that help maintain a sense of balance and normalcy. Let go of everything else.
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In like a lion, out like a lamb

The final stage of the North Star Grand Prix – the Stillwater Criterium with its famous 18% grade up Chilkoot Hill – wrapped up just a few hours ago, although my day ended even a little before that. After a rocky start to the stage, I did what I could to help the team and was then pulled unceremoniously by the officials. It didn’t really matter; we’d accomplished what we set out to do in keeping Sophie Mackay in the Sprinter’s Jersey. But it’s still never easy to accept personal defeat.

I had high hopes going into this race last Wednesday. My form has been good, it was my final event before a much needed mid-season break, and I was ready to step up and earn some results. There was a frightening episode with my heart right before the time trial start, but I raced anyway and was thrilled to earn a 5th place result. I’ve never done that well in a national-level time trial and it was exciting to actually be in contention to fight for the yellow jersey.

That night’s criterium started off normally. I was wary of the course – the design seemed unsafe in places, the pavement quality was terrible, and the barriers were the kind with raised legs versus the much safer ones typically used in races – but rode steady and did my best to surf wheels and conserve. Then something happened, what I’m still not entirely sure, but I think I hit a hole in the road. Lost control of the bike, swerved, clipped the extended foot of a barrier, and flipped. Landed hard on my head, back, and shoulder with a leg wedged between the tops of two barriers so tightly that another rider had to move a barrier to free me. The medics came and I was taken to the ER, my race surely over.

Then the x-rays came back clear and I heard the stage had been nullified entirely due to another serious crash. It seemed ridiculous to even consider racing – my back, shoulder, and leg hurt so badly I was nearly immobile – but I couldn’t put the idea out of mind. Being allowed to start the next stage was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Probably should have, frankly, but I’m too stubborn and couldn’t back down.

So I did the road race and then the next crit and then the following road race. Each day was harder than the one before. What had felt like great form coming into the race seemed to have evaporated the moment I hit the asphalt. I wanted to go hard and feel better with each new start but that did not happen. I held onto 5th place in GC until I was bumped down to 6th after Friday’s crit. In my head, I was still determined to keep fighting and hopeful that Saturday’s road race would bring fresh possibilities.

It didn’t. I lost a minute on the final lap of the finishing circuit and with it my GC contention. It was stupid to even rue the lost opportunity; I was lucky to be mostly unscathed after a brutal crash and it was a miracle I was even still in the race. But find me a professional athlete that isn’t hard on themselves and I’ll trade you a unicorn. Of course I was disappointed. I spent the long drive back to the house wondering if, in those last moments of the race, I could have pushed just a little harder to stay with the front group. I don’t think so – my body had cashed out entirely – but hindsight obscures pain and clouds judgment.

Frankly, it wouldn’t have mattered. When the race started today, I went up the hill pretty well the first time and then basically died. Pedaling resulted in nothing more than a mild acceleration, laughable at best and certainly not enough to contest the stage. The field rode away. I wanted to quit but there was one job left to be done. Sophie still had the Sprinter’s Jersey and it was crucial that she complete the race. So we worked together, cranking out trips up the hill until we could officially be done.

It was enough to secure the overall jersey, which as both a teammate and team owner feels like a massive victory. We came here to race and left with success. I couldn’t be more proud of what we did this week together – we only had a small squad to begin with and lost Jessi to a terrible crash – but we still rallied and rode outside of ourselves to make something happen.

But personally, I’m still struggling. Is there room for that? Can you be thrilled for your team and teammate and still be disappointed in yourself? Clearly the answer is yes since I am doing it now. It’s stupid because who slams their body at full speed into pavement and then expects to be able to do everything physical just as well as before? If it were anybody else asking me, I’d tell them to be kind to their body, take time to recover, and don’t think anything of the lost opportunities. But it’s not so easy to tell myself that. I wanted more from this race. I wanted that shot at being a GC rider and fighting hard through the stages. I didn’t want to spend the entire race fighting myself instead.

But okay. That is how it went. It happened and it’s done now and I’m glad I was able to keep going at all. Working for the Sprinter’s Jersey was something I could do with what I had left to give and frankly gave me the motivation needed to even kit up each day.

At the beginning of today’s stage, Lauren Hall of Team Tibco was given the Carla Swart Sportsmanship Jersey based on votes from the whole peloton on the rider that sacrifices the most for her team. I couldn’t think of a more deserving rider, because Lauren is constantly working for her team, giving up her own results and doing work to help other riders succeed. There is so much honor in that style of riding and if I could choose anybody from this peloton as a role model, I would choose Lauren.

With that in mind, it’s easier to put aside my own personal disappointment and feel proud of what the team was able to accomplish together. If it weren’t for my team, I don’t know that I would have kept going at all. The least I could do was keep pedaling to thank them for supporting and encouraging me. Helping them bring home a jersey was a good way to burn my last few matches and a place to put my focus when my own plans had to be tabled.

But tabled, not abandoned. I need some time off to recover and heal, but then there are more races and more big dreams to chase. If I can be 5th once, it can be done again.

ClV4o5JUoAAa-02.jpg-large

This chick is a legend.

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Joe Martin < Me

Today is the first stage of the Joe Martin Stage Race, a 4.84 kilometer uphill time trial. Then we have two road races and a crit over the following three days. Stage racing is great! Supermint is great! Bikes are great!

Last time I was at this race in 2014, I had a massive meltdown.

Things were bad that year. For reasons I’m still trying to understand, I fell apart completely and lost half a season to panic attacks, performance anxiety, and endless crying spells. It took months to climb out of the dark hole and stop hating racing and myself, and sometimes I still worry that shadow is going to come back.

Joe Martin was one of the worst periods in that time. Things were going to pieces before I even made it to Fayetteville and on the night before the first stage, I took the team van, drove to a local bar, and inhaled alcohol and cheesy dip. Then I melted down at the TT start and tried to ride 40+ miles back to the host house with my backpack so I could escape. Then (I am embarrassed to be typing this now) I had a hysterical sobbing fit when I wasn’t happy with my TT result and hid in the team van to cry on the phone to my mother. And finally I quit the race a few meters before the finish line on the second day to be prevented from starting the next two stages.

It was ugly and messy and humiliating and defeating. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and some life changes, it’s also in the past. But being here now feels like running into that ex you totally stalked by calling a million times and showing up at his work all weepy and sloppy and crazy-eyed. [Note: I have not actually done THAT.] I know that was long ago and I’m healthier and happier now, but I still feel fragile being in these same places taking on this same race that defeated me before.

That’s okay. Sometimes it feels good to remember how crappy things were and how that passed and things are okay now. That’s life. I’d rather poke my eye out than say “it’s the journey, not the destination” because that’s completely opposite the point of professional athletics (“it’s the fun of the race, not who got there first!” = do a charity century), but there is something to be said for the process. I got better. I came back here by choice. I want to be racing my bike. My backpack is going to stay in the team van until after the race.

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The Magic of Mint

When Jono and I brought Andrey on to be the HB Supermint creative director, we had a vision in mind: somebody with a unique eye for brilliant photos who was able to tell a compelling story about a new team of professional cyclists coming together to take on a race season. There would be elation! Heartbreak! Suspense! An underdog tale, a phoenix rising from the ashes to conquer the elite racing circuit!

Then as with all things in life, reality intervened. Andrey has done a wonderful job of making us look fantastic, despite repeated efforts on my part to thwart him. Exhibits A and B:

Bokanev-Supermint-02605 Bokanev-Supermint-02812
But the storytelling part has taken a backseat to keeping up with the rapid pace of the season. We went from camp to racing Tucson, Chico, San Dimas, Redlands. Days of racing with associated roster announcements, stage reports, photos, sponsor announcements – all normal parts of running and promoting a cycling team but more demanding than I had anticipated. I’ve promised to write a half dozen reports and blog posts and then can’t even be summoned to pen a 1-2 sentence quote because it’s tiring being a racer, team owner, and corporate employee. Nevermind my overflowing Hulu queue and my obsessive need to vacuum hourly.

I want to be better about this, though, because this Supermint story is amazing and I’m not just saying that the same way a mother says her ugly baby is the cutest thing ever. When I think about how far we’ve come since last November and what this team has amounted to already, it seems surreal. It’s only mid-April and we’ve already been on the podium over a dozen times and won a handful of jerseys. Every time Jono and I muse excitedly about our good fortune, the team goes out and one-ups itself in the next event. I’m pretty sure we’re going to win the Tour de France this year, and that is why I now permanently live in this:

Photo on 4-20-16 at 12.00 PM #5 12.06.28 PM
To most people, it’s a sweatshirt (and one badly in need of laundering). To me, it’s a physical embodiment of everything we have done so far and are striving to do going forward. I am so happy to see how our riders have risen to the occasion of each race, pushing out massive efforts on behalf of the team and far exceeding anything they’ve done previously. It feels like we’ve tapped into some magic formula that is getting everybody to unleash their inner rock star.

On a personal level, I’m pretty happy with how things have been going with my riding. I don’t know if it’s the accumulated effort of multiple seasons in my legs, the experience that comes from being a few years into racing at this level, or the excitement of racing for my own team, but this year has started off strong. I feel more confident in races and things that used to scare me – technical courses, sketchy downhills – are now places where I believe I’ll have an edge. There is still not a mountaintop finish on this planet that I love, but I’ve reached a point where I can respect the kind of rider I am versus begrudge everything I’m not.

The final day of Redlands on the challenging, hilly Sunset stage was one of the best moments of my career thus far: I went into the day not sure if I’d even be able to finish and instead worked a break off the front for nearly half the race and set my teammate up to get on the podium. Nobody was more surprised than me to see it shake out that way; I’d all but requested a mimosa waiting for when the inevitable mid-race “drop and get pulled” occurred. Instead, I raced my bike all day and finally got to finish the Sunset stage in downtown Redlands for the first time in my career. It was exhilarating and a reminder that there is no room for “I can’t” anymore.

Bokanev Lindsay Bayer Sunset Redlands
I suppose that is the story of this team so far. A lot of things we thought could not be done have been done already and are continually being done. Create a team. Build the infrastructure. Find a great mix of riders. Kick off the season. Race together well. Win stuff. It’s hard to take the time to document the underlying story when everybody is caught up with actually living it, but it’s there and it’s as compelling of a narrative as I could have ever hoped.

Bokanev Lechuga RedlandsBokanev Supermint

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