Megan Guarnier blog: I'm sacrificing academia and family to do something I love

Women's WorldTour winner reveals why winter is important for her success

Our lives are not normal. We’re not spending time with family. We miss birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. We live out of suitcases.

Our jobs are 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. I am always a pro cyclist. I don’t have the luxury that most people have of leaving work at the office. Then again, most people don’t have the luxury of making two wheels their office.

Trade-offs, rights?

Dreaming about holidays

Hawaii. I want to go to Hawaii. My in-season dreaming about the off-season always centers around Hawaii.

We wanted to go for our honeymoon, but we ended up doing a tour of New England. We started out in Boston to visit my brother and my cousin. We spent time with my grandparents and went to New Hampshire for my four-year-old cousin’s birthday party. After ten days of soaking up family time, it was time to head back to California and settle down for a few days before training kicked back up.

For me, that’s the off-season. I have grand plans of going somewhere, of relaxing on the beach, but when off-season rolls around, I choose family. It’s mundane and down-to-earth and makes up for all I miss during the season.

I believe it’s different for people that get to stay home all year long, for the ones that get to see their husbands after every race. I’ve seen most of my European teammates go on vacation, maybe even somewhere exotic, and step away a bit from cycling and home and life.

I’m a little bit jealous of that. It’s not that I don’t have the opportunity to do the same, but it’s not what meets my needs after being away from home all year.

I have yet to go to Hawaii. Maybe when I retire.

Staying active

With a late 2016 World Championships, the flow of the off-season was shifted slightly and compressed. For those of us that raced in Qatar, we were shorted three precious weeks this year. Yes, we’re all counting.

In a normal year, I take all of October off. I do not touch the bike. I unpack and reassess and organise. I make doctor appointments and dentist appointments. I walk around American groceries and relish all the options I have at my disposal.

For the last three years, we’ve moved every off-season. We wait until the fall due to the physical nature of the move: all the packing and unpacking would impact performance. This year we didn’t move, and I felt a little lost. I eat cake if I want cake. I hike all day. I have a glass of wine with dinner. I stay out late. I sleep in late – or I wake up early because I have yet another appointment to attend. I schedule a year’s worth of appointments during the off-season.

I try to stay active. I run. Well, that’s a strong word for what I do. I put running shoes on, head out the door and get the blood pumping. I feel lazy not touching my bike even when I have no desire to touch it. However, by the end of the season, I’m ready to be done. I’m fried from the travel and the racing and being away from home. When the end of October rolls around, I’m ready to kit-up again. I’m hungry to get back on the bike and begin the work required to meet my next season goals.

November. December. January. I’m mostly at home, but I’m focused on training at this point. I’m on the bike for several hours a day. I’m at the gym doing core work. For my teammates, I think this is nearly identical to what their in-season, between race days, look like but not for me because I’m home in the States. I’m with Billy. I spend holidays with family. I get to cook for someone else rather than eating dinner alone.

This part of the off-season becomes a lesson in balance. How do I enjoy my time at home while doing what I need to do for myself as a professional cyclist?

Back on the road

The first Boels-Dolmans team camp in December began with a ski trip in Austria. It was my first time downhill skiing in seven years. Before cycling, skiing was my biggest passion. I had that kid on a Christmas morning feeling when we hit the slopes. I took that feeling home with me and went skiing for the first time with my husband Billy. We’ve been together going on seven years, and we had never skied together.

My family is really into winter sports, and this year, more than any before, I made a concerted effort to bundle up and head outdoors with them. It was a challenge scheduling cross-country skiing and snowshoeing around my workouts, but it was worth every bit of logistical gymnastics to get that kind of time with my family.

I only have a few days left of my off-season. Then it’s back to Europe. My first race is Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. By March off-season will feel forever far away. By April, I will have missed five birthdays, 65 dinners at home with my husband, at least a dozen glasses of wine. By May, I will start to dream about Hawaii again.

Whenever you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to another. Whatever you do, you’re sacrificing doing something else. I won’t miss the rainy, cold days on the bike. It always feels like less of a sacrifice when the weather is nice.

For me, right now, I’m sacrificing academia and neuroscience and being with my family to do something I love. When I retire, I’ll sacrifice fitness and long, lovely days on the bike.

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