This is a Parcheesi blockade on the highway.
Have you played Parcheesi? If so you know that if you can land two of your little people pieces (like the yellow pieces below) on the same space on the board, no one can get past you (blue piece waiting behind).
My siblings and I had a tradition to play Parcheesi with our grandmother when we visited her down in New Jersey, and that move always irked me. Cars like to pull that move on the highway too, driving at identical speeds in parallel lanes while you have places to go. I hated being blockaded in Parchessi, I hate being held up on the highway. I have a #blockadehate problem.
The first several weeks of this season I’ve been stuck behind my own internal Parcheesi block. My cross Chi has been disturbed, and I miss feeling that flow. This year, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity of combining the amazing team support of Optum with a year off of teaching, and I really want to make the most of it. So far, things just haven't come together. I’ve been playing a game of Whack-a-mole scrambling to fix little things here and there - getting the gearing dialed, pre-race meal, starts, etc. But for some reason it’s been hard to just relax and enjoy the ride. I’ve been making mistakes, and haven’t found my groove.
A few years ago, I was dabbling in the local Cat 3/4 races, then in the local semi-serious scene. Now, I’m fortunate enough to race against the most talented CX racers in the world. Most races in fact feature Katie Compton, who is just on another level all together and helps us all step up our game. Mentally, it’s a different mindset to go into a race of this caliber and decide on a different definition of success than necessarily winning. It’s also requires a different mindset than that of the underdog, or the working Pro. No longer is the motivation that of proving I can do it against the odds. Perhaps it's the Puritanical influence of growing up in New England, or just a personality thing, but it just doesn't feel right if I'm not slaving away or trying to prove something. I'm sure there are therapists for that.
The better you get, the harder it is to win. Everyone is extremely fit and extremely talented. The mental game of who wants it most is huge, and by wanting, I don’t mean just drooling over thoughts of a podium, or trying really hard. I always try hard, I always want to win. It’s something else somewhere in the space between, when doing the right thing becomes easy, and suffering is just part of what you do, and the little setbacks or mistakes don’t derail you. It’s flow.
Gloucester was a chance to overcome the funk. I grew up in a big family, and I do best when they’re around. They are my good friends, and are sarcastically but faithfully supportive. Ok, also, confession: as the oldest I’m used to having plenty of attention and praise! As exciting as traveling adventures are, nothing beats the energy of a hometown race and hearing my name from every corner of the course. It’s invigorating!
Jesse was home leading up to Gloucester and we got to ride several times. He urged me of to go with my instincts, to trust myself, and to block out the superfluous noise. He also reminded me that I’ve made a choice this year to go for what I’ve dreamed of and to embrace that.
Saturday morning, I was doing some research for my Health Educator job, listening to a webcast by Michael Taylor about the healing effects of moving in a way that makes you happy. Basically, he was saying that finding a way to move that you enjoy is the first step to feeling good overall, that once you’ve found that, the rest of your life will follow naturally on a course to become more healthy. The idea that motivation stems from movement resonated with me in terms of cyclo-cross. Bottom line, I love to race cyclo-cross because it’s a way I’m good at moving! Relaxing and enjoying that movement is where I need to return. Moving is my antidote to the Parcheesi blockade.
Incidentally, my friend and colleague Natalie had just been asking my opinion about what to say to someone who hates all forms of exercise, but wants to be healthier. “Well, then maybe you just have to treat it as something you’ve got to do, like eat your broccoli, and just get it done.” My grumpy, auto-Parcheesi-blocked-state-of-mind words came back to haunt me suddenly, a far cry from the holistic perspective I’d just heard on the webcast. Right there in the kitchen I got up and just danced around (ok, Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailando” had just played on my iTunes) and I couldn't help it.
The weekend started off great with a team dinner.
Being fortunate enough to live 20 minutes from the race course, I hosted mechanics Taylor Mathiason and Chris Kreidl, and teammate Kerry Werner, as well as my friend Stephanie Wetzel, for dinner on Friday. Taylor had us entertained all evening with his stories of Mike the elderly Harvard professor who walked into the café where Taylor was enjoying coffee, helmet on, bike lost, and Emily Dickinson poem on the tip of his tongue.
Saturday, I pre-rode with Jesse then did my warm up and dialed in tire pressure and choice with Taylor and Chris who kept us all in good shape all weekend.
On the start line at Gloucester, I could feel the support of the home crowd and my heart raced with anticipation.
I missed my pedal at the start but stayed calm and made my way up to the lead group. From the get go, the lead group was large and full of jockeying and elbowing and good ol’ cross moves. We bumped, weaseled, attacked. It was racing. And I had finally found my spot, I was suffering but I was in the mix, finding my lines.
Each time I got boxed out or fell back in the group, I found my way back to 2nd wheel. I was watching the others, planning my move. In the last half lap, I still sat second wheel, and up a dusty hill several riders behind made moves toward the front. Suddenly my front wheel slid out from under me and down I went, taking out Meredith Miller in the process.
I popped up to jump back on to find my bike twisted around, and Meredith on the ground screaming in pain with a 4” gash down to the bone on her shin, blood seeping out. Suddenly, I was in another mode, darting through the course tape, thinking “you’ve got to help stop the bleeding.” I squeezed her leg around the knee until Brad Durrin offered the shirt off his back to tie around her shin. I sat and held pressure while others summoned medical.
Now Meredith did hunt me down and outsprint me at Nationals :) but she’s been a good friend with her experience and advice, and a talented competitor that we all respect. I am disappointed to have taken myself out of a good race, but even more sorry to see Meredith in so much pain and get hurt like that! She’s a strong, resilient woman and she’ll be back soon for sure. Helen Wyman went on to take the sprint for the win in the race.
That night, the family gathered around two large pots of our mom’s homemade soup with homemade apple crisp for dessert. When I got back to my condo, my friend Natalie had left this thoughtful and sweet package for me:
Sunday, I was still pretty sore and my left side had morphed into a birthing hip. Natalie came up to have coffee and chat about Saturday and life and all that. I was full of fire and ready to take on the course again. Unfortunately, my body was not, "Maybe some other time," my legs seemed to shrug as I cajoled them to move.
I was flat off the start and all race, but rode a clean race and gutted it out for 7th. Caroline Mani who’s been on fire this season pulled off a spectacular win with her broken wrist.
This week, it’s time to put the past behind, any disappointments I’ve felt or pressures I’ve created. As my friend Amanda sais, a time to exhale. Then, it’s time to get the two yellow people moving so the blue gal can get on with her life and racing cyclocross.