Saturday, June 10, 2017

An interesting perspective on the challenges of Masters competitors

An article posted by Chris Carmichael today totally nailed what I've been struggling with for the past year or so: an unexplained (until now) decline in motivation for racing and cycling.

The article describes a phenomenon in older athletes (the over-40 crowd)* for a reduced tolerance to self-inflicted suffering for the sake of the sport. Although it's critical for the not-quite-as-young-as-we-used-to-be to keep working out at high intensities, it becomes more of a head game to achieve those levels in training. Why? The article doesn't give any solid evidence, but points to the fact that we begin to get selective about the levels of suffering we're willing to endure (which may be indicative of goals and motivation). It also suggests that our priorities change, in terms of why we train and race. Maybe it becomes less important to dominate the podium, and maybe that translates into backing off a bit in training.

I don't know for sure, but I do know that I have considered all these issues as I tried to make sense of my deteriorating relationship with my sport.

In my experience, I have absolutely become less tolerant of crappy weather conditions. The days of training and racing in miserable weather are, happily, (and hopefully) behind me. I no longer feel the need to "HTFU", as the CX-ers like to tell us. Cold, wet, windy days - all the fun things that accompany roughly 8 months of not-summer here in NEO - can suck the energy and motivation out of me in ways that are beyond irrational.

At the same time, my tolerance for indoor training has hit rock bottom, and I'm unable to muster any enthusiasm for slogging it out in front of a lifeless computerized landscape. Rounding out this perfect trifecta: menopause** has brought unexpected (and unwelcome) physical changes, like hot flashes (which means I can be freezing cold and uncomfortably hot at the same time. Yay, me!), hydration/fuel challenges, interrupted sleep patterns, and general crankiness. More than usual crankiness.

I have always relished a hard workout. I would look forward to it the night before and plan it all out. I would wake up before the sun, get on the road so I could take advantage of cool temperatures and minimal traffic. I would push myself to levels that I would not have thought possible. And I would prove myself on the playing field, using races not only as testament of my training and my ability to push limits, but for their value as stepping stones of motivation that would keep me active and engaged for a whole season. Sometimes a whole year, depending on the event timing (like Death Valley rides in early spring).

Nowadays, I often prefer to hit the snooze button a couple of times and negotiate the terms of my planned workout over another cup of coffee. This is an alarming development, and I need to figure it out soon.

I'm not sure where I go from here. I know plenty of aging athletes that have found ways to stay motivated and fit (and happy with their chosen sports), and I'm sure I'll do the same. At some point, I'll find the thing (or things) that resonate with my evolving goals, and that don't require an inordinate amount of misery to achieve.

*There have been a lot of interesting articles lately focusing on this demographic. Either I have just started paying more attention to studies centered around aging in competitive athletes, or there's a growing population of us that can no longer be ignored. In any case, I'm looking forward to more interesting and enlightening scientific data around this topic.

**Fodder for a whole other blog, and then some. There is frustratingly little scientifically-sound information on how menopause affects performance of competitive women athletes.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Then, suddenly, I looked up...

Photo Credit: Marie Rote*

The attainment of any big goal or proud accomplishment requires a laser-sharp focus of time, attention, and energy. Those of us with athletic pursuits know this, and we are very good at eliminating distractions so we can stay our charted courses.

But life is full of distractions, and sometimes the difference between a laser-sharp focus and a moment of lapsed attention is a glorious sunset on a Winter's Solstice evening. Remember that as you plow through your life.

The goals are just stopping off points; the real journey is the places in between.

*Who very wisely rode outside in pursuit of a 6000 mile goal for 2016. And then very wisely stopped to take this photo.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Canyon Life, Metaphorically Speaking

It starts off with a mix of excitement and apprehension. You approach it with wide-eyed wonder and an open heart, ready to accept whatever it brings.

Those first tentative steps into an unknown future become more steady as you find your own rhythm.

Sometimes the road ahead seems too hard, the uphill struggles insurmountable. But you get through it, one step at a time. Maybe taking a break to regroup before pushing forward, sometimes just motoring through.

Sometimes you can't see the way ahead of you, but you simply trust yourself and the trail that you're on. And at every step along the way, there is beauty to behold. If you remember to stop and look,  you'll see that the world changes with every footfall.

You realize that you're not the first person to ever travel this road, and you won't be the last. So you honor those who were here before you, and those who will follow. There is reverence in this journey.

Sometimes you walk with friends, and sometimes you find yourself walking with strangers. At times, you're all by yourself. Sometimes, you travel the same road with the same people, and those are the ones you know are with you for the entire journey.

You get to the end of the trail and you look back over where you've been, and what you had to do to get here. And it's beautiful.

Isn't that exactly the way life should be?

The Tip-Off, on the South Kaibab Trail. This is where the plateau drops into the Inner Gorge.

This was the third time Dave M hiked this trail with me. He lives in the UK.
And Jackie? This is the 6th time we've hiked to Phantom Ranch together. We will have many more adventures together in the future. 

The view of the Colorado River, from the Black Bridge

Nearing the South Rim, on the Bright Angel Trail

I like to hang over the edge of cliffs.

Surreal sunset
Dave, Brian, Jackie, and me at Skeleton Point

To see more photos from this trip, click here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Riding into Winter

The day starts off grey. Smoky clouds blot out any hope of sunlight. I take a half-hearted glance at the outside temp, but I know that this is as warm as it’s going to get.

I down my coffee before it gets cold, and begin the art of layering up. Long sleeve base layer, then short sleeve jersey. Gore jacket on top for a wind barrier. Fleece tights. Shoe covers. Heat packs in my shoes. Heat packs in my gloves. Lobster-claw mittens on top. Buff. Wool beanie under my helmet.

If I don’t get out of the house soon I’m going to melt.

 I prepare a couple of bottles of electrolyte, absently put ice in them. Start over.

I haul my loaded bike out the front door. A cold wind shakes the leafless trees, and bites into the exposed parts of my face. Those clouds promise snow, or worse, but not for a while. The street is quiet, and it feels like the rest of the world has gone into hibernation. For a split second, I reconsider my options, maybe I should ride indoors. But the wiser part of my brain quashes that thought before it can take root.

I know that when I’m done, I’ll come back to a warm house and a hot shower. There will be a pot of chili and a cold beer, and, later this evening, a gin cocktail in front of a roaring fire. And it will all be that much sweeter because I rode outside today, when the wind was biting cold and the sky was winter-blanket grey.
Just the thought of it warms me up. I clip in and set off.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fall Fever

Photo credit Cleveland Velodrome (Gary Burkholder?)

It's like Spring Fever, but on the opposite end of the cosmic calendar.

These days won't last. In spite of the uncharacteristically warm autumn we've been having around here, winter is coming.

But not today. Today, the sun is shining sideways and the sky is brilliantly blue. This calls for an emergency 'offsite' meeting all afternoon at the Cleveland Velodrome.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Lost in the Woods, Again

I went mountain biking this morning. I was supposed to be at work, but the sun was shining and the day was looking drop-dead beautiful, and if I wait too much longer the falling leaves will soon cover the trail and I won't be able to avoid all those rocks and roots.

This is only the second time I've ridden on the Bedford singletrack. I know I'm late to this party, since the trail has been opened for more than 2 years and it's literally around the corner from my house. The first time I rode it was with Angie, who is a good mountain biker and also very patient of her chicken-hearted friends who aren't very good mountain bikers. She coached me through one loop of the easy trail, and told me that, as a newbie (read: totally incompetent mountain biker) I shouldn't ride it alone.

I couldn't help myself. I like to ride solo for a lot of reasons: I can ride at my own (slow) pace, repeat sections that I find challenging, hop off and walk when I lose confidence, lose confidence without embarrassing myself in front of anyone. It was nice to have the trail to myself this morning. I can't imagine riding through this peaceful woodland with anyone charging up behind me and breathing down my neck, like in a race. That would totally ruin the zen for me. Truly, I can run this trail faster than I can ride it (my GPS proves this), but why would I want to ride it any faster?

The Bedford Singletrack is often talked down upon by more experienced MTB'ers as being too easy. I'm happy for that. I don't need to 'shred' a 'gnarly' trail. I really just want to be able to ride my bike in the woods.

I got lost only once, repeating a loop within the main loop. I passed the same picnic table twice before I realized the deja vu. That's one of the downsides: I can't really enjoy the view, I have to keep my eyes on the trail in front of me (which is not any different than trail running, by the way). But I found that I was getting better at it the longer I was out there. Blood flowed back into my previously white knuckles, and I began to ease off a little on the brakes (the constant screeching of my brakes when I first started was scaring off the wildlife). I was beginning to truly enjoy myself, and aside from the gnawing guilt that I should probably get back to work, I would have ridden  it all again.

I hope to get out there again before too long, and when I do, I plan to get just a little more lost than I did today.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Blue Line

There's a painted blue line that meanders through Akron. Every time I see it, it makes my heart race. This permanent decoration marks the course for the Akron Marathon, with a diversion for us half marathoners.

It's exciting, chasing that line around the city with almost 15,000 other runners. It feels like a high-speed party. Spectators line the streets with signs, cowbells, and encouragement. Live bands dot the course. The pace car lists everyone's name on it, like we're something special. It seems like all my friends are here.

And let's not forget the after-parties. There's  the official one, in the infield of Canal Park stadium as you cross the finish line. Another live band, medals, and awful beer. And the unofficial party, now in it's 4th year: a gathering of friends at a local bar (whichever one has the foresight to open by 10 AM), along the final mile of the course so we can drink the good stuff while we cheer in the longer-distance runners.

The blue line has led me to this very cool place in my athletic journey, where I've learned to love running (yes, I used to hate it).

Some Akron residents complain that the blue line is pollution, and should be removed between races. I say that the blue line is a sign, a taunt, a promise to challenge all takers, an invitation to try. The blue line tempts you to come along for the adventure, and then stays with you the whole way. It's a steadfast, unwavering running partner. And somewhere along the way, it might lead you to an annual autumn tradition.

Even the donuts are getting into the act!