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Calm before the storm

Every year it happens just the same. The deeply ingrained habits of the off-season training regime become the norm, settling into the routine of spending a large portion of the day riding. This time of year is always enjoyable. The rides are tough and the weary legged, "I need a nap" feeling after big volume days is oddly satisfying. The stress level is low, and the living is good.

There is a certain level of complacency that is easy to settle into to during this phase; that is, until the first big race starts sneaking up. Then the realization that training to the point of tired contentment is not a means to an end, at least not for someone who's passion and job is racing.

I haven't been on an airplane in over three months, haven't raced a cross country event in even longer. I miss the familiarity of the unfamiliar that comes along with life on the road. Riding new trail every week, roaming new towns, seeing new cultures, new scenes, and discovering what is out there. I miss the post-race hack, the nights of laying in bed with heart racing and legs aching, the swapping of tales that happens after every race, and the comradery among everyone who frequents the racing circuit.

Luckily, it is almost that time of year, and I am longing for (almost) everything that comes along with it. I can't wait for that feeling of pre-race nervousness; the one where my stomach is turning and my legs feel hollow.

I am excited to turn myself completely inside out for no reason other than to see how fast I can go. I have an intense curiosity to see how I stack up against the other hundred some guys that will soon be lined up next to me. I want to face the fear of the unknown and figure out what happens. I crave that indescribable feeling of all out effort somehow combined with uncanny relaxation and comfort that happens when race-effort is really clicking.

My first race may not come together perfectly, and frankly, I don't necessarily want it to. The season is long and I have bigger goals than coming out with all guns blazing at the first showdown of the season. It's a tough balance because no one wants to get whooped; but at the same time, it equally sucks to be the guy who nails the first race and is running low on bullets by the time Sea Otter rolls around.

One of the best parts of the first race is the opportunity to check up on how well everyone has done their off-season homework. It quickly becomes apparent who has done too much skiing and kayaking (Adam Craig?), who has enjoyed too much easy living in Hawaii (JHK and Heather Irmiger?), who has spent too many hours on the golf course (Todd Wells?), and who has spent too much time chasing the three B's (Me?).

The 2011 mountain bike racing season is almost upon me. My first race is the opener of the US Pro XCT in Bonelli, California (on March 12-13).

Next time I check in, I'll let you know how things pan-out at my first test of the season.

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Sam Schultz, 25, is a regular at US National Series mountain bike events and on the World Cup cross country circuit. The Subaru-Trek racer is back at it again for the 2011 season.

In 2010, he had a break out performance - winning the Subaru Cup, a US Pro XCT series event in Mt. Morris, Wisconsin. It was Schultz's first national series event.

"I am really hoping to step it up another level in international competition," said Schultz of his 2011 ambitions.

Schultz hails from Missoula, Montana, where he lives for most of the year although he can be found from January through April based in San Luis Obispo, California, where the climate is more hospitable to gaining pre-season on the bike fitness.

When not on his bike, the good humored Schultz enjoys skiing, hiking and cooking and eating good food.