November 21, 2008
Crossing the finish line this year in the first place position, shattering the women's course record, raising my hands high in conquest meant something entirely different than a seemingly short twelve months ago. The endorphins and emotion that pulsated through my veins in those short moments after triumph were and are a reminder of the vital life lesson that I have trudged through in 2008.
If you're looking for some juicy rousing training or racing story in this one, then may I politely suggest that you not tread through the following medley of metaphor and meaning. Simply put: 2008 was not about racing, training, riding, running, winning, but rather simply, living.
When racing at the elite level there comes a time when you literally have to give yourself to your sport: relinquish power and surrender. Sometimes this comes at a defining moment in time, a contract that you make with yourself, or it can just be a progression of successful seasons, strung together by fate. Regardless of the process, to be the best athlete there must be a total submission.
"I simply got back on my bike." - Marisa Asplund explains the cure.
For myself, I took the former approach, uprooting and changing all aspects of my comfortable and complacent life. Last autumn, I signed with the powerful and dominant Team Cheerwine, stepped down from my teaching job, which at the time provided me with nothing more than bothersome obligations that only distracted me from training, and moved to Tucson, Arizona, to train all winter. The 2008 year was going to be the year.
However, it was not the year... or at least not the year I thought it would be.
There were record breaking snowstorms that pounded my hometown Durango, Colorado, beginning in December of 2007. The skiers rejoiced. The cyclists cursed. Needless to say, I was thanking my lucky stars that I was pedalling those brutal months away with laps up and down the astonishing Mount Lemon and embracing Tucson's legendary cycling culture. I entered the season fit, fast-flying; ready to mix it up with any of those west-coast riders who get the benefit of over 360 days of moderate training conditions. Yes, I consider 50°F and drizzle quite moderate.
The season opener was a 40-kilometre hilly time trial – a custom made course for a slow twitch athlete like myself. As a result of my aero bars slipping down, forcing me to run off the road at the 22-kilometre mark, my race resulted in a DNF. The next day was followed by a painful crash in the last five laps of a criterium. Considering this space, time and some lingering pessimism, I will sum up the first half of the 2008 season with this: despite form, fitness and fight, fortune simply would not allow me to finish a race intact.
As athletes, we are accustomed to the notion of having to persevere to beat the odds, to train and race in adverse conditions, to wipe fear terror away. Think about descending at 45mph in the pounding rain attached to the smooth asphalt by only 15mm of rubber. This drive to achieve can paradoxically be the demon that leads us to our own demise. The unadorned reality is, sometimes no matter how hard we wage war against our own psyches we crack too.
Cracking was the sensation that I found my body experiencing late in May when I was forced off my bike with another injury. The thrill and excitement that 2008 was supposed to bring, now only resonated rejection, resentment and raw pain. All that was left was scathing, self defeating dialogue, "What happened? I did everything right. I completed every last single hour of my base mileage, endured every minute of my LT intervals, endless sets of plyometrics and form sprints. Right wattage, right heartrate, right diet, sleep, supplements, right altitude..."
So what had happened? In retrospect I see what I had blinded myself from in those months. I had forgotten that somewhere happiness and, dare I say, joy needed to be injected. It wasn't until sometime in late June that I finally began to accept the reality of the true 2008. Slowly, reluctantly, painfully I raised my white flag at life.
What happened next? I got back on my bike.
I simply got back on my bike. I did what all good athletes do, train and ride. And just when the towel was well on its way into the bottom of the bucket, a glint of a silver lining revealed itself at the Cascade Cycling Classic, late in July, I was racing the arduous hilly stage race near Bend, Oregon. I attribute my continued commitment to cycling for 2009 to those long hot summer days of racing. For the first time in nearly a year I found myself actually, truly happy and reality enjoying the ride.
Fast forward to October in Moab
This is where I finally found my success. The 2008 cycling season, the year, was long over with. I was fit and healthy coming off the bike, but for what? There was little deliberation. The only thing to do now, a repeat performance at the Moab Half Marathon.
With only seven weeks to prepare, I suffered through those nasty Wednesday night track workouts, put in those essential tempo runs and pounded out those long weekend miles, exchanging my passion for the pedals for one ultimate goal, the course record. Success was finally, and in the most obscure of places, granted.
I maintain that I am not a runner. I just run. I am a cyclist, a cyclist who found one of life's most important lessons in the most unexpected of places. One can not predict success' mode of transportation, but when it knocks at the door, let it in, embrace it. Hold on to it.
And with that I conclude my 2008 season. A year that truly was the year.
I now look ahead to 2009. Smaller, more simple and... happier.