Disembarking The Sad Train

If you read the last post here, you know that things this season have been challenging. There have been tears, defeats, disappointments, and a half dozen occasions in which I was chased by terrifying dogs on rural roads while thinking UGH JUST BITE ALREADY. It has been a difficult time.

After coming home from the Joe Martin Stage Race, I intended to take some time away from racing to clear my head. I did take a break…if you consider the 12 days I was scheduled to be home prior to flying to the Tour of California Circuit Race a break. I went to California because the ticket was already booked and it was an opportunity that I felt like I shouldn’t miss. It was a fun trip, so long as we don’t count the hour in which I rode in circles with 108 other women while making unhappy faces and feeling miserable.

Then I came home and decided to go forward with racing the Wilmington Grand Prix the following weekend, because continuing to bang my head against the wall was working out so well. And it was actually a success! In a manner of speaking, that is. The race itself was a disaster. I had a mental meltdown almost immediately upon starting, floundered aimlessly, got gapped off early, and made my most significant contribution to the race when I rode onto the sidewalk to stop a car that was pulling blindly out of a parking garage onto the course.

Erica Allar got 2nd place for Team Colavita. She is awesome. I love knowing that I can fall over dead mid-race and she’ll still make it happen. Being chased by feral dogs while riding with her sucks, though, because on the fastest day of my life, I’m still getting eaten first.

Anyway, the race was a complete dud for me and afterwards everybody was like, “So, how about that break…?” And I got a little teary and wrote sad things on the Internet and had a lot of tequila and mourned the death of my cycling career.

But then I woke up the day after and was PISSED. For the first time since this slump started, I felt angry about messing up the race and throwing away the opportunity to be part of the competition. I used to be a fighter, even when I was in over my head and sorely lacking in skill; what kind of rider had I become, content with sliding backwards in the field and entirely out of the race? I spent a long ride that day dissecting what I’d done wrong at Wilmington and encouraging a small, healthy degree of self-loathing. It felt like a switch flipped, like I’d finally gotten fed up with being in the dark hole.

Since then, I’ve taken various steps to get ready to return to racing. I’m trying to better manage my eating on and off the bike so I’m not held back by lack of fuel. I’ve dropped in on group rides to get comfortable letting others put the hurt on me and learned to fight back. I’ve practiced breathing through the anxiety that ramps way up in those moments and started to feel calm under pressure again. I’ve stopped crying every eight seconds.

I also stayed home from the National Championships and watched the race online from my kitchen table. While it felt nice to have a relaxing weekend of riding at home, watching the race was hard. I went from feeling glad that I wasn’t climbing Lookout Mountain to wishing I was, because climbing it badly is still more satisfying than watching other people live your dream. When Alison Powers made her move at the end and crossed the line to take her second title of the weekend, I was so jealous I wanted to reach through the screen and poke her in the forehead. Not because I wanted her victory (well, duh, of course that too), but because I wanted to be there and wanted that feeling of riding so hard and feeling accomplished as a result.

So I think it’s time to race again. People around me are (understandably) questioning if I’m rushing this, but I don’t think so. It’s like the placebo effect in a sense; if I stalled out this season because my head wasn’t in the right place, and now my head thinks we’re in the right place, doesn’t that mean this could work? In other words, if I believe I’m ready to compete, isn’t that enough?

This weekend is the Philly Cycling Classic. I’ll be there, and this time I intend to race my damn bike.

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