Saturday, July 31, 2010

Long Overdue

I've always known that I'm not cut out for blogging. When things are going well, I tend to spend my time doing those things rather than blogging about those things. So it is with my cycling. The past few months have gone really well, and I consequently haven't written. Then, on July 14, I was hit by a car, and now I can't ride . . . and thus this long overdue post.

Being hit by the car hasn't had nearly the psychological impact on me that my injury last year had. That is, I haven't re-considered the value of cycling, I haven't tried to figure ways that I can avoid riding in traffic, and I haven't been hesitant to get back on the bike. Mentally, it is basically on par with the minor crashes I have had--the crashes that simply attend being a cyclist--like when I slipped on the wet train tracks or was taken down by a dog. On both of those days, I got up, continued riding, and went out again the next day (albeit a bit battered). Unfortunately, physically, this crash was a bit more significant. Shoulder-blocking the side of a car at 20 m.p.h. has left me with two injured bones on my right side. There are a few flakes off my scapula, and there is a crack in the ball of my humerus. Both of these injuries have caused pain and debilitation, and even though I have tried a couple of times, it's basically impossible for me to control my bike well enough to ride outside. This past week, after an MRI, the doctor made it official: no riding outside for a month.

This puts me in a strange place, given that I am an athlete who needs goals. This injury knocks me out of the remainder of the competitive season because there simply aren't any races around here after the end of August. In addition, it compromises the training I can do ahead of the September and October centuries, including the Six Gap Century at the end of September, where I had really hoped to ride fast and finish high in the "King of the Mountains" competition. (That's pretty much out of the question now. While I will still ride Six Gap, I will not expect to do well in the KOM.) Thus, I am left without a goal to motivate my riding August (indoors), September, and October. I feel as if I need one last big goal before I shift my focus to the 2011 (and working to complete my Ph.D.!) in November, December, and January. I'm going to be on the hunt for that in the next few weeks. I'll be actively seeking one last time and place before the end of the year where I can experience the most pleasant exhaustion.

Surprisingly, the fact that my Six Gap goal is compromised hardly bothers me. In the past two weeks, I have also missed two races (including one today), where I might have hoped to have placed well. Yet, nonetheless, I'm at peace. This is another major difference between my major crash last year and this one: I'm not left frustrated for goals unaccomplished. I believe that this is because I actually accomplished a lot more than I expected to accomplish in the last few months. Starting back in April, I finished third in the Cheaha Challenge Century (despite some gigantic tactical mistakes), I finished fifth in the Three State, Three Mountain Century, and I finished first in the Brasstown Bald Century (completing the course with the fastest ascent up Brasstown Bald that anyone has done in the five-year history of the ride). After that, I rode well enough in the Cat 4 Tour of Atlanta in May to win one stage, finish on the podium in one other, come fourth in three others, and complete the six-stage race in third overall. That was good enough to upgrade to Cat 3, where I became the Georgia State Road Race Champion in my very first race. I have worn the State Champion jersey in two other Cat 3 races which both resulted in second place finishes (behind the same guy!). I was also fourth in the Cat 3 State TT Championship, still without full aero gear. Since becoming a Cat 3 in June, I have not finished lower than fourth in any race. I certainly didn't expect that. I recently joined a team, and I'm knocking on the door of upgrading to Cat 2, which would mean racing against pros. (In fact, have already raced with pros on two occasions, and in both of those instances, I did well.) Had I not missed these two recent races, I would probably have enough points to upgrade to Cat 2 tomorrow. That was beyond my wildest expectations when I was cooking up goals after Sebring, so I certainly cannot now bemoan my bad fortune and dream frustratedly about what could have been.

In short, in the last six months, I've felt that exquisite mix of elation and exhaustion which no doubt motivates my entire athletic life. Moreover, I've learned more about my relationship with it. With this injury, I've learned that while the most pleasant exhaustion is attractive, for me, it is not addictive. I have had a few tastes, and that is enough to satisfy me for a while. In addition, I have realized that I tend to build my goals around the events where I think that I can finish both successfully and completely spent. Looking back, I have drawn the most satisfaction in the last six months from the Cheaha Challenge, the Cat 3 Georgia State Championships in Augusta, and the Cat 3 Georgia State Games in White. Each of these required me to dig deep, and in the end, I was was near the top. Looking ahead, I am really excited that Cat 3s and 2s get to do longer, harder races, because it increases the probability that I will come to the finish line exhausted. Hopefully, I will sometimes also come to the finish line successful. I also put the Cheaha Challenge on my calendar for next year less than one minute after crossing the finish line. I plan to go back, ride smarter, and finish first.

The only real blemish in the past few months came during a RR in June where I finished third. My friend Erik and I had joined the same team, and he had resolved to help me finish high in the race. Because the race included a major descent, one of our goals was to make sure that I didn't lose too much time on the leaders going downhill so that I could potentially beat them going uphill at the finish. Being a better descender than me--which is hardly a mark of distinction given that virtually everyone is a better descender than me--Erik got out in front of me. Understandably and admirably, though, he focused on where I was rather than on his own descent, and as a result, he crashed off the side of the road. Erik broke his collarbone and was done racing for the summer. I initially blamed myself for it; had I been a better descender, he would not have worried about me, and he would not have crashed. Today, I still insist that I am largely to blame, but I have felt less guilty given how magnanimous Erik has been. Perhaps, somewhere deep in my sub-conscious, I am at peace with having smacked a car because I feel as if it has set the universe right. Cosmically, it's just. In addition, before I got hurt, I transformed a lot of my guilt into determination, and I took three trips up to the mountains to practice descending. I feel as if I got much better. By the time that I ride the same race next year, I will be a confident and competent descender, and no one will have to break their collarbones looking out for me--especially not my good friends.

Perhaps another blog post will be coming from me soon. We'll see how wrapped up I get in the roller coaster month that will be this August. I hope to write that summer vacation ended well and school has started on the right note. I hope to write that the cross country team I coach is hardworking and fun. I hope to write that my trainer training has gone well, and that I am confident that I have retained enough fitness to enjoy the fall centuries. I hope to write that my 36th birthday party was fun for all. I hope to write that the final few weeks of my wife's Ironman buildup have been fantastic, and that we are excited about her big debut in Louisville on August 29. And, of course, I hope to write that my right arm has continued to heal, and that I am getting ever closer to a ride outside with Erik.

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