Sunday, May 27, 2012

finding my head space, and a little elbow room

My body is tired and sore. No I didn't race this week, I didn't even ride a bike until today... but I put some serious kilometers and elevation behind me, and the best part is that it was all on foot! Some of my earliest memories, both good and bad, involve trucking down a trail in the woods. You see, in my parents previous lifetimes were both climbing bums... my dad has first accents in the Himalayas to his name, and for a while my mom was an Outward Bound instructor. And in order to insure they were able to continue pursuing their shared passion for getting lost in the woods once they settled down and started a family, growing up I more than once got to dress up in a swimsuit and raincoat with plastic bags around my feet and hike through rainstorms. Memories like that, as well as arguably brighter ones like standing on top of Mt. Rainier, climbing Prussic Peak,  summiting Mt. Hood, sweating up Asgard Pass with Allen and our 70lb packs and breaking ice still incapsulating alpine lakes to go swimming, vividly stick with me, and are some of my most cherished. Those trips instilled a deep passion for hiking and backpacking in me... one that is arguably stronger than my passion on the bike. There is just nothing as humbling and fundamental to me as finding myself alone and surrounded by peaks as old and imposing as time itself.
And after the World Cup in La Bresse, thats exactly what I needed... an escape! Its not that things didn't go well in La Bresse, they actually went quite well. I was 36th again, just like in Houffalize, this time just behind Sam and JB. I did exactly what I think I needed to in order to keep myself in the Olympic conversation. Now its just up to the selection committee... and I have no control over that. But by this point in the season, I have been training for six months, racing for three, and I was in need of a break mentally more than anything.
So where better to go than the Matterhorn... the town of Zermatt. I wanted to do some iconic swiss touristing... And thats exactly what I got. I went with the intention of getting away from my bike, and just finding a place to relax mentally; to hike in the presence of mountains that would take my breath away. I wanted to do something different with my body and go places my bike couldn't take me. And I found some of that... for sure... but I also found myself surrounded by Asian tourists having snowball fights, hiking for 4 hrs and then having trucks drive past or gondolas soar over my head, and in the presence of excess everywhere. I took the cog rail up the Gornergant, and sunburnt my forehead... I hiked along the mountain paths under the radiant sun and Matterhorn... I took tons of photos and I ate 25CHF pizza and 8CHF ice cream.

It's not to say that I didn't enjoy myself... I did completely, and I am so glad I went, because ultimately I've come home ready to start training again. It just wasn't exactly what I expected... I'm in a much better place mentally, than I was just a week ago... I'm no longer tired and a little bored. But Zermatt and the Matterhorn experience just wasn't as powerful as I had hoped it might be. It lacked some sort of authenticity amongst the throngs of people and video cameras. I don't have words to describe the beauty of those mountains, and on Friday when I was really able to get good and away, ditching the trail and wondering up a glacial moraine below the Matterhorn, I was totally spellbound. And then as I approached town on my way home, I again left the trail and found my own little beach in the sun along the river where I was able to swim, eat chocolate and read my book... after all, my mother would be totally disappointed to find out I didn't jump into freezing water when the opportunity presented itself. In the end, I think I like the solitude of the North Cascades a little better :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

From Czech with... well disappointment

I am a little confused about this weekend. I had amazing legs. I know the fitness is absolutely there. But I don’t know if everyone else it just more fit, or my inability to establish a rhythm was the problem. That’s what I feel like the issue was... After an amazing start where I launched myself up into the top 20, I just know I have what it takes to have an amazing race, but I feel like the circumstances, i.e. dealing with traffic, high-speed road sections, having to get on and of the bike, just threw off any sort of rhythm I would have otherwise hoped to establish. I feel like if I had been able to just settle in and have my race, things could have gone completely differently. I always felt like I was racing at someone else’s tempo, slower on the climbs than I would have liked, faster on the descents that I was able to go. And it meant I was constantly at the back of groups, missing moves that were able to move forward and bridge to groups further up. I guess that’s something to chock up into the memory and utilize in the future. I need to stay at the front of these groups instead of being content at the back hoping I get dragged along going forward. the more I can learn the better equipped I will be next time around.

For certain the elites are faster than the U23’s… but I remembered this race playing out with lots of 2-3 person groups separated by 10-15 seconds, a hard race for sure, but one where I was able to race my race… not someone else’s. And that just certainly wasn’t the case this year. I felt like I was always in a group with 8-10 people until the last lap and a half when things finally started to blow up. I think part of that was conditions too, people stuck together because there was a fairly long high-speed road section where it was important to be in a group with the wind. But with just one or two people you work together, in a group of ten people just sit and then attack once the road is over. I have never been very good at that type of racing. I like to be able to dictate my own pace and just go. I can leave it all out there that way. So although certainly there were moments when I was 110% out there, I feel like I averaged maybe 90%. And that’s not good enough to have a good world cup result. It takes 100% the whole time.

Going downhill like a small child doesn’t help either. And I don’t really know what that was about. I stayed off the brakes as much as possible, took the lines that the guys faster than me were taking, but alas I just couldn’t ever find my ability to shred. I guess I just need to think about how to race at other peoples pace better. I think that takes a lot of mental energy, but its there, I just need to tap into that.

I crossed the finish line feeling completely unsatisfied. There were bright spots (awesome start and legs), but it was mostly a race that was full of lack-luster moments. I’m ultimately pretty disappointed because last year I had such a stellar race here. But I feel more focused right now that I did going into the weekend… and my eyes are more fixed on the Olympics than ever. I’d like to believe that if I can put together a stellar race in France, I solidify my potential as an Olympic candidate, which is ultimately what I am after and all I can extend my control over… from there its just up to selection committee. I think Sam locked it up this weekend, and Todd finally showed his cards too, but I don’t think it was any more impressive than my result in Houffalize. I’m ready to learn from this and see what I can do before this big spring campaign is over this coming weekend in La Bresse. I think it would be a little tough to be motivated if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a World Cup and I have incredible fitness right now! I’ve just gotta keep thinking about that. Maybe this is the swift kick in the ass I need for this coming weekend. It’ll sure help me keep my eyes on the prize for one more week!

Monday, May 7, 2012

It is NOT a lonely road to the top

I knew going into this season abroad that at some point the novelty of being in europe full time would wear off. And I knew that I would have to wrestle internally with my justifications for being over here, living a very simple life... day in and day out; sleeping, eating, training and racing. Living in a foreign country, not speaking the language, far away from my friends and family. I didn't know how I would react to it. I knew it had the potential to take what has been a very very good thing, and turn it inside out, opening the door for me to resent my decisions to be over here because they aren't always comfortable, they aren't the same decisions I see my friends making, and they have pulled me physically very far from those closest to me. They have been decisions that haven't necessarily been immediately gratifying, and present challenges I could not have foreseen.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is incredible
That time came as I was sitting in the San Francisco Airport preparing to fly back to Zurich, having just said goodbye to my parents and friends after an incredibly enjoyable week in Monterey at Sea Otter. I had thought it would be a trip that renewed my energy, and gave me a new focus once I got back in europe, but it did exactly the opposite. I found myself suddenly missing all the comfort, laughing and conversation that comes with being around people you care about, have history with... and who share your language. The silence was deafening once I got back into my quiet little apartment in Fully, this shortly after I found out I wouldn't be racing in Heubach that coming weekend in order to focus on recovery and the upcoming world cups... my birthday weekend none the less. I would be sitting quietly in my lonely apartment on my birthday... and at the time that was totally devastating. I went from on top of the world (sans a miserable performance at the Sea Otter) to really really low over the course of a plane flight and train ride. What I came back to wasn't comfortable, it wasn't emotionally secure and to be completely honest, a little boring... which means I had plenty of time to sulk and feel miserable about my "loneliness".  Also it was raining.
As I told a close friend today though, I have a visceral distain for feeling depressed, and generally I am pretty good about channeling my inner Mitch Hoke; that is the ability to view the people and situations I find myself in under very positive light, and not stress over shit that doesn't really matter. 
Some nice views along the roads here in Valais

After a couple well timed emails, Facebook messages, and Skype sessions with those closest to me, I realized how much my life was anything but lonely. A lack of proximity means nothing. Someone once told me that its a lonely road to the top... and I would argue that's impossible, because it takes the support, love and care of so many for any one person to rise to the top. If it were lonely we wouldn't have the Olympics because only the insane would be able to cope with the hours of training, isolation, travel and emotional toll of competition without a vast, supportive and close network of friends and family. Something I am incredibly blessed to have. And I had lost sight of that for those few days. But you all reminded me that I am indeed not alone over here in Switzerland... not at all! Thank you for that! 
So I found myself on my birthday morning smiling while riding my mountain bike in the sun, surrounded by the Alps, and in afternoon I made my way to Sion to watch the Tour de Romandie finish. I spent hours talking with people at the BMC tent, both fans and the marketing people. I turned acquaintances into friendships, and started new ones as David escorted me through the VIP tent introducing me to people who I look forward to seeing again. I came home exhausted, but committed to making something tasty for dinner (I'd already had a birthday dinner of sorts with Mitch and my parents in Monterey), before retiring to my book and some chocolate. I doubt I will ever forget what exactly I did on my 23rd birthday, it made a big impression. 

Birthday Ahi

In some ways it signified a new chapter turned for me. I've greatly expanded the depth and breadth of my relationships here in just a few days (feels like it took long enough); People to train with, people to go out for coffee with and even though Mon francias est miserable... its getting better :) I'm confident in my abilities, and I have reexamined my motives, both rationally and emotionally. Those are two hard things to separate sometimes... and I have a much better grasp on why I am over here, now that the novelty has worn off!